Call to tackle Himalayan invader in Wensum Valley
- Credit: Mark Webster
It looks innocent enough, with a pretty pink flower shaped like a policeman's helmet.
But Himalayan Balsam is becoming so invasive that conservationists in Norfolk are urging the general public to join the fight against the flourishing weed which can grow over six feet tall in a single season.
Community volunteering charity TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) is aiming to tackle the suffocating menace along the valley of the River Wensum and its tributaries in a campaign supported with funding from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
TCV project officer Mark Webster said the plant usually grows alongside rivers and streams and in other damp areas.
He said: 'It can smother everything in its path if left unchecked, so we want to pull up as much of it as possible before it sets seed.'
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Much like its oriental cousin Japanese Knotweed, which was introduced to Britain by the Victorians in the 1800s as an ornamental garden plant, Himalayan Balsam was brought to the UK in 1839 and is now naturalised.
It is a relative of the busy Lizzie but has become a major problem in the past 10 years.
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Balsam tolerates low light levels and also shades out other vegetation, gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants.
Each plant can produce 800 seeds and during early summer it is a race against time to tackle it, as the seeds fire out explosively from the plant when they are ready. They can shoot out over five metres from the parent plant, as well as floating downstream to contaminate other areas.
'Fortunately it comes up very easily,' said Mr Webster, 'so almost anyone can make a really visible difference quite quickly. The only problem is it can be difficult to get at as it can grow on steep banks.'
TCV's Mid Norfolk Conservation Group are currently focussing on sites at Rush Meadow in Dereham, Bawdeswell Heath, and Booton Common near Reepham.
It is running community events every Friday between 11.15am and 2.15pm for people to join in and help remove it.
For more details, or if you have seen Himalayan Balsam somewhere else, visit www.tcv.org.uk/norfolk or contact Mark Webster on email@example.com or 07843 069567.