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Himalayan Balsam

The community group tackling damaging plants

Meet the Balsam Bashers. Roger Bankes-Jones writes about the work of community group Friends of he Neb, which is working to eradicate damaging plants from a river catchment:

Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed are non-native plant species that are highly invasive and cause considerable damage within the Manx countryside. 

Both flourish in watery places – be it damp and boggy, or swift-flowing stream – but, unfortunately, their growth can damage our watercourse banks, which leads to erosion and the increase of silt in our rivers. This can, in turn, be detrimental to fish spawning, and can lead to the silting up of harbours.

By being more vigorous and competitive, they are also damaging to our native flora. This leads to the shading-out of our favourite plants and the preferential pollination of the invading plants by insects such as bees because of their plentiful nectar supply.

Friends of the Neb aim to completely eradicate Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed from the River Neb catchment area within the next five to 10 years.

Developing the techniques and skills needed in order to achieve this, it is then hoped that this scheme can then be duplicated on the other river systems of the Island.

By their nature, Balsam and Knotweed tend to spread downstream. Consequently, any viable attempt to eradicate them needs to start at the headwaters of the River Neb’s many tributary streams and rivulets and work down towards the main river.

Members of our community can help with this exciting pilot scheme in many ways:

  • simply letting us know if you have found Balsam or Knotweed will help us with our survey programme. Provide us with a map reference and description, or even a photograph, together with your contact details
  • become a volunteer. Help is always needed for survey work and our regular 'Balsam Bashes' can be great fun. Funding is available for some volunteers to be trained and certified for the pesticide injection of Japanese Knotweed
  • landowners with property adjacent to these watercourses can give permission for our selected volunteers to survey and assess any areas of infestation on their land, prior to treatment
  • help with our educational programme by telling us experiences of your own private campaigns against these two invasive plants.

Himalayan Balsam can be killed, in an environmentally friendly manner, by pulling it up before it flowers, from the end of June through to the first hard frosts in October, and allowing the plants to dry out, be trampled or be bagged and destroyed.

The seed, by which it spreads, can remain viable for two years, so anywhere that has balsam needs monitoring for two or three years.

Japanese Knotweed can be weakened by frequent pulling or depriving the plants of light. An effective way of destroying the plant is by injecting the stems with weed killer from July to September. After doing this, you are likely to have to revisit the site in the following two years, to be sure it's gone. This last procedure needs training, specialist equipment and certification.

If you would like to make a difference in maintaining our beautiful environment, please follow Friends of the Neb on Facebook, spread the word about us and join us.

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