Thursday 6th July 2017
My last visit to Poringland Woods with the Fringe Project was around three years ago to clear the invasive rhododendron which had spread across a large section of the wood. Our visit on Thursday was to tackle another very invasive species – Himalayan balsam. The plant was introduced by the Victorians but has taken hold across many areas and is highly invasive and very difficult to control. The plant likes damp areas so grows well along the banks of rivers and streams and around ponds. Each plant has 100s of seeds which are spread by an explosive seed capsule which shoots these some distance and are easily carried by water to colonise new areas where it out competes native species. Over winter the plant dies back leaving the affected river banks vulnerable to erosion due to their shallow root system. There was a clear line of growth up to the slightly higher and drier areas under the trees.
Our visit today was to remove as much of the Himalayan balsam as possible before it set its seed. A quick survey of the site identified the areas to concentrate on. The plant is easily pulled out by hand but with such a large area it is a long job. Cutting it off at its base also stops further growth but also includes other plants growing around it. Paula and Michelle strapped on the brush cutters and set to work clearing the more accessible areas of the wood. Rob, Robert, Keith and I started pulling out the plant by hand along the banks of a stream and the more inaccessible areas.
The plant grows quite long and is sappy but fortunately doesn’t break when pulled so comes out with its roots. (Not as back-breaking as pulling ragwort!) Much of it was growing among nettles and other things so not getting stung was not an option! We pulled armfuls of the plant and then deposited it in piles. Hopefully it will just die back and not spread any further. The areas that we brush cut were raked into piles to clear the debris, especially along the banks of the stream. Keith shared brush cutter duties after tea break working with Paula clearing a large area around the marshy bit.
By lunchtime the sky had darkened and there were rumbles of thunder. We carried on a bit after lunch but the storm was getting closer and the rain had started. A wise decision to stop early was justified by the ensuing storm that broke just after we left and caused localised flooding and damage from lightning strikes. Not a long day but we had cleared a considerable area of the balsam in our short time at the woods.