Foreign Takeover!

I can’t remember when I first heard about Himalayan balsam.  It was certainly a good few years ago, but I don’t remember it as a child.  Now it’s difficult to miss, and available across much of the country, particularly in the summer.

For those of you who’ve not yet met it, the picture should help.

A typical Himalayan balsam plant near Heatherton pond.

Himalayan balsam is an annual plant introduced into this country over 100 years ago, with bright pink flowers.  It didn’t take long to escape from gardens, and  can now be found in lots of places.  It seems to be particularly fond of damp patches, and can grow thickly along the banks of streams and rivers, squeezing out native plants. 

There is some debate about whether and how it should be dealt with, but advice to Friends of Littleover Parks earlier this year was to pull it up in our best wildlife area while it was flowering.  This was done in Sunnydale Park and by Heatherton Pond.  I joined a working party for the latter, but I fear that there may well be a second blossoming of plants and more to spot now if I were to visit again!

While I was at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I joined a workshop also attacking alien species invading a wildlife area – in this case bamboo and  rhododendron.

Himalayan balsam dominating an area on the banks of the River Derwent in Derby.

Unlike the Himalayan balsam, these are both perennials.  The bamboo was being dug up, and the rhododendrons were being chopped down!  Some work had been done previously, but it takes several years to kill a big bush by repeatedly removing its new branches.  A small team of us also left with a feeling of satisfaction (and good appetites for lunch) after turning a giant bush into a small stumpy lump!

These are just two small examples of how virtually all of the UK landscape is influenced by mankind.  And over time definitions of what is native and what is not, change.  After the last ice age many species found their way slowly back into Great Britain.  More were brought by people as they emigrated here – from stinging nettles to sycamore trees.

Over the next 50 or 100 years there will be more changes as climate change takes hold…

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