It’s time to bash some Balsam

Himalayan Balsam
Himalayan Balsam

Residents and community groups have undertaken a campaign in order to protect the wildlife in Calderdale. Spreading rapidly through the district, the Himalayan Balsam - an invasive weed from Asia - is a serious threat to our natural environment, and is circulating many aspects of nature from woodlands to riverbanks.

The now naturalised plant was introduced to the UK in 1839, becoming a problem weed due to its high toleration of low light levels and thus consequent impoverishing of habitats by killing other plants.

Otherwise known as ‘policeman’s helmet’ due to the production of helmet-shaped flowers, each plant can produce up to 800 seeds; dispersed widely as the ripe seedpods shoot their seeds up to 7m (22 ft) away.

The plant is difficult to miss, being a grand six to ten ft in height and adorning clusters of purplish-pink (or very rarely white) flowers during June to October.

Found especially on riverbanks or waste land but occasionally invading gardens, the public are encouraged to pull up the Balsam if spotted. Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, Coun Steve Sweeney, said “Calderdale has such a beautiful natural landscape and wonderful wildlife, and we’re doing everything we can to protect them. Balsam is a huge threat to nature, so Council staff and volunteers are working closely with organisations such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Canal & River Trust to tackle the problem in the borough. We need as much help as possible.”

Calderdale Council is therefore holding a ‘Balsam bashing’ session in Shibden Park on Saturday, July 26, to encourage volunteers to unite in a fight for floral freedom.

Everyone is welcome to attend the event, after which a family barbecue will follow as a reward for all the hard work. Volunteers from the council’s community task force who carry out environmental work experience across Calderdale will be on hand to help.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Environment, Coun Barry Collins, said: “Volunteer just a few hours and you can help protect our local environment for years to come.”

The council is also encouraging the public to hold their own ‘Balsam Bashing’ event, inviting families, friends and neighbours, with which the community task force will help as much as they can. The plant needs to be removed before the flowers start to set seed in August or September.

If you know of any Balsam infested sites that need treatment, or would like to take part in a community Balsam bashing event, contact Becky Jenkinson or Anne Holdsworth on 01422 392249.