The Lockdown Days – Bashing the balsam

Is it just me or does each day on the lockdown seem a little less strange?

If you’ve ever walked on the Thames Path over the last few years you’ll have seen impatiens glandulifera. Commonly known as Himalayan Balsam it is a relative of the busy Lizzie, but reaches well over head height, and is a major weed problem, especially on riverbanks and waste land, but can also invade gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes.

Himalayan Balsam is native to the Himalayas, specifically to the areas between Kashmir and Uttarakand. In its native range it is usually found in altitudes between 2000–2500 m above sea level, although it has been reported in up to 4000 m above sea level. In Europe the plant was first introduced in the UK where it has become naturalized and widespread across riverbanks. Presently it can be found almost everywhere across thehim balsam continent. In North America it has been found in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. In the United States it is found on both the east and west coast, seemingly restricted to northern latitudes.

In the UK the plant was first introduced in 1839 at the same time as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. These plants were all promoted at the time as having the virtues of “herculean proportions” and “splendid invasiveness” which meant that ordinary people could buy them for the cost of a packet of seeds to rival the expensive orchids grown in the greenhouses of the rich. Within ten years, however, Himalayan balsam had escaped from the confines of cultivation and begun to spread along the river systems of England.

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It is considered a prohibited noxious weed and the aggressive seed dispersal, coupled with high nectar production which attracts pollinators, often allows the Himalayan Balsam to outcompete native plants. Himalayan Balsam also promotes river bank erosion due to the plant dying back over winter, leaving the bank unprotected from flooding. Invasive Himalayan Balsam can also adversely affect indigenous species by attracting pollinators (e.g. insects) at the expense of indigenous species.

It might look pretty when it flowers but it is a bad thing. So, the other day I joined 3 chums from Kingston Ramblers and headed down to Petersham Lodge Woods, which is a small slice of land nestling up next to the Thames Path near Richmond. It might be a small patch of land but it’s certainly got plenty of Himalayan Balsam growing away alongside the stinging nettles.

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It’s best to get at it before it starts to flower, which it does between June and October, and to get it out you need to grip it hard at the base and give it a good yank. Then it’s a question of find and repeat. It rots down easily, so I’m told, which means you can just pile it up after you’ve pulled it out of the ground. There were 4 of us bashing away today which meant social distancing was no problem. And while you’re working away you find there’s a fairly constant stream of walkers who’ll stop and ask what you’re doing and chat away.

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I had a great time. Well except I made the schoolboy error of wearing shorts while bashing so my exposed legs felt the full impact of the stinging nettles which also thrive in this environment. You could hear the constant squawk of the parakeets overhead and because we were close to Petersham’s German School there was the chatter of a myriad of European languages coming from the playground. I love London.

If you want to get involved with Himalayan Balsam bashing you could do worse than check out the South East Rivers Trust for info. Or if you live in the Richmond area drop me an email cos we plan to do it again next Friday 26 June, meeting outside the Fox and Duck at 10 am. And as a real bonus I discovered the New Inn on Ham Common is open for off sales on Friday lunchtimes so I reckon I’ll have a beer after next week’s session.

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Balsam Range – The Rambler

Danny & The Champions Of The World – Parakeets

Veet Vichara & Premanjali – Balsam

Slow Meadow – Lonesome Summer

Field Report – Never Look Back

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Lockdown Days – Bashing the balsam

  1. You look like an (ageing) indie band recreating an early nineties photo shoot!

    • I’m taking that as a compliment but the thanks should go to one of the many walkers/dog walkers who took the the time to stop and chat to us as we were ‘bashing’ and who was persuadable to snap some photos of us.

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