The Culm Himalayan Balsam Action Group (HBAG) is a new initiative that’s come out of discussions in our Working Groups. Himalayan Balsam was introduced to the UK in 1839 from Northern India. In our soft, lowland climate it behaves in a very vigorous fashion and can grow in dense, tall stands alongside the river that prevent other native plant species growing. It is an annual plant and, when it dies down in the winter, it leaves the ground underneath it bare, and vulnerable to erosion in high flows. The native perennial plants that would have helped stabilise the banks are missing and so the river banks erode too quickly and soil is washed downstream.

The Culm HBAG is being set up to help coordinate action along the Culm to tackle this invasive species. The key to Himalayan Balsam is to start at the top of the catchment and work downstream (as its seeds are mainly carried by water). Plants need to be pulled up by the roots, or cut down, before they set seed. It flowers from late June then well into November, with seeds released 12-14 weeks after flowering commences. We know from other projects (see below) that, a monthly visit should be made to any stand of Himalayan balsam to pull up plants before they flower, starting in late June and finishing in September. This means we are fast approaching the period when action is needed, and we are now inviting people to register to take action.

To register your interest, either as a volunteer to tackle Himalayan balsam or as a landowner keen to see it removed, please email, stating where you live, and we’ll add you to the list. Our aim is to facilitate community-led action for volunteers in their local area, helping people to steward a section of the watercourse, initially to survey that stretch and identify where Himalayan balsam is growing. We’ll provide best practice guidance but you will need to contact landowners to obtain permission to access any areas that are not currently open to the public, and you will be acting in your own capacity. We’ll plot the locations of Himalayan Balsam on our interactive map and so provide a means of coordinating the teams that go out to tackle it!

Other groups in Devon and Dorset have gained a lot of experience over the years of tackling Himalayan Balsam, and we’ve looked at their work to learn how best to approach it. We’ve added one of these to our CTC library for reference / interest. Note that other projects have found that it takes at least three years to make a noticeable difference but, once the problem is under control, the annual workload diminishes and it becomes a case of checking for new emergence rather than wholesale removal.

Photo by Luke Galloway on Unsplash