Himalayan Balsam Update 2022
In recent years, Himalayan balsam has firmly rooted itself into the landscape of Snowdonia. Its presence hasn’t gone unnoticed, with plants growing to heights of 2.5m and producing dense clusters of bright pink flowers, it has become hard to miss. Watercourses are prime habitats for balsam and are the motorways that allow balsam to spread rapidly around the park, where it then happily colonises and expands through wet woodlands and damp grasslands.
At this point some of you might ask what is the harm? Its flowers do, after all, provide a splash of colour and can often be seen buzzing with pollinators in mid-to-late summer. However, the species unfortunately provides a significant threat to biodiversity and soil in the park. The harm caused by this plant in a nutshell (or should I say seed pod), comes from two main aspects. The first is its ability to out-compete our native plants, which it achieves through rapid growth and efficient dispersal: according to Plantlife it’s the largest annual species in the UK and produces exploding seed pods that can launch hundreds of seeds up to 7 metres away from the plant. This all means that the species can quickly become dominant over large areas, squeezing out native plants, which in turn has knock-on effects throughout the ecosystem, leading to massive changes to the invertebrate communities, including the loss of specialist pollinators. The second harm comes from its annual life cycle, meaning that the plant disappears in winter leaving no root systems to hold the soil together. This leads to erosion causing loss of important soil for agriculture and the collapse of riverbanks. This in turn causes a multitude of downstream issues, with silt smothering the gravel beds used as breeding grounds by fish such as salmon and choking habitats occupied by some of our rarest invertebrates, such as freshwater pearl mussel. It is hard to quantify the damage that this one invasive species causes but overall, invasive species are considered one of the main drivers of the global biodiversity crisis. Therefore, we are determined to keep tackling this plant and are so thankful for your support.
Volunteers pulling Himalayan balsam in Bethesda Rugby Club during Snowdonia Society’s MAD weekend.
As a core partner of the Carneddau Landscape Partnership we’ve directed our energy and resources towards balsam clearing within the Carneddau area. This year our volunteers spent an amazing 375 hours removing balsam. This huge total results from many people donating a few hours here and there, and we are very grateful. These hours however, represent only a fraction of the time spent by the incredible communities of the Carneddau. We were lucky enough to work alongside a number of these groups including Dyffryn Gwyrdd, a local sustainability and environmental project based in Bethesda. Together we identified two key areas high up the watercourse that were essential to tackle before we worked lower down the catchment. As Harry Pickering from Dyffryn Gwyrdd put it, we had to “cut the head off the snake” before tackling the body. Their efforts and experimentation with different balsam bashing strategies, including raking, mowing and slicing has provided fascinating insights into how to improve our efficiency for next year.
Down at the southern end of the Carneddau, the village of Trefriw has a growing balsam population, which is slowly but surely working its way up the valley towards Llyn Crafnant. Here we joined forces with a passionate couple who were keen to reclaim their woodlands and halt the marching balsam from reaching the lake. Their enthusiasm and passion during work days made them firm favourites with volunteers and staff (or maybe it was the bakery goodies they brought!). When we left, the balsam battle in the valley was only just beginning, however, seeing their newly purchased strimmer and the communities’ resolve, we are excited to return next year and to help with their progress.
Volunteer getting stuck into a dense cluster of Himalayan balsam (left), volunteer getting stuck into bakery goodies (right).
Over in Dyffryn Conwy we linked up with the well-established Rowen group. This dedicated group of balsam bashers have been going for the last five years, methodically working along watercourses in the area, clearing them section by section. It was great to see their map, which was crisscrossed with green highlighted strips that represented cleared balsam areas. More encouraging still was hearing how whole sections of river they’d cleared in previous years have remained balsam free on inspection this year! These victories are worth celebrating so a massive well done from the Snowdonia Society!
Just down the road a new group set up this year is focusing on Ffynnon Bedr. This fresh and enthusiastic group has sprung up to tackle balsam in their local woodland where it carpeted virtually the whole understorey. Despite what at first seemed an insurmountable task, they made great strides surprising even themselves with the area they have been able to clear. Now their goals have grown, and they are in communication with the Carneddau Landscape Partnership to see what additional support they can give.
Satisfied and tired volunteers after pulling a mountain of balsam in the Crafnant valley.
Over the next three years of the Carneddau Landscape Partnership our mission is to provide support and assistance to people keen to tackle Himalayan balsam across the Carneddau, by equipping them with the information and skills required to successfully manage the plant. To those people already engaged in tackling the plant, we would love to bring extra volunteers to help bolster your efforts. As part of this strategy, we have been delivering free, practical, and accredited training modules. These cover how to identify and correctly tackle balsam and how to set up and manage balsam bashing activities (soon to be accessible online). We are also creating an online map of the Carneddau showing the distribution of Himalayan balsam (based on records sent to us from the public) and where it is being tackled and by which group. We hope this will shine a light on the incredible work being undertaken, encourage more communities to get involved and importantly develop a feeling of unity and support among the people actively involved in the battle against balsam.
There still is a long way to go if we are to get to grips with this plant in Snowdonia, but there is hope.
Action can be taken by everyone to manage this invasive species; here are a couple of suggestions.
- Report sightings to us! Download our Himalayan balsam survey form which asks a few key questions about the sighting. Or simply record the location, ideally providing a grid reference and photo and email it to me at email@example.com.
- Get involved with our balsam days or join one of our training courses. Here you will not only make a physical difference, you will also meet like-minded people and gather the skills and knowledge to remove balsam yourself from your neighbourhood.
For now the Himalayan balsam season is over, which means there is nothing left to do but recharge our energy, harden our resolve and get ready for an even bigger push next year.