Volunteers turned out to tackle the invasive species Himalayan balsam around Rydal Water last weekend, at Friends of the Lake District’s Fight the Aliens – Big Balsam Bash event.

This is the third year running the Cumbrian landscape conservation charity has organised the event.

Some 45 volunteers turned out last Saturday (10 July) to attack the invasive plant all round Rydal Water.

The Fight the Aliens – Big Balsam Bash event was a partnership between Friends of the Lake District and South Cumbria Rivers Trust, with support from the National Trust, the Lake District National Park, Lowther Estates, Rydal Estate and C & S Hodgson (Rydal Hall Farm).

Some strimming of the bigger patches was done courtesy of Lowther Estates, with funding provided by Rydal Estate and South Lakeland District Council, while volunteers pulled up much of the balsam by hand.

The plant is a problem because it outcompetes our native plants and spreads rapidly, especially along river banks and water courses. It dies off in winter leaving bare banks of exposed soil that are then prone to erosion with no plant roots to keep them in place.

Volunteer and event organiser Ken Taylor said: “I think we are winning! This year, there were far fewer balsam plants for us to pull – partly due to the late spring but mainly a result of our efforts over the last two years. But, this made it more challenging for the volunteers, as they had to search harder for the plants. Even so, we managed, for the first time, to cover all the infested ground in one go. I want to thank all those who turned up on Saturday to allow this to be achieved.”

Douglas Chalmers of Friends of the Lake District said: “Events such as these are so important for sustaining our landscape. Himalayan Balsam is an invasive non-native plant that reproduces rapidly and spreads quickly. It smothers and displaces our indigenous plants in our environment which simply cannot compete. It has been a genuine pest for over 150 years and it is very satisfying when we can see its invasion being halted and turned back as we have here.”

It’s really vital that the plants are not allowed to go to seed, with each plant capable of producing 800 seeds per year, so several follow up volunteer events are planned to mop up more of the balsam. The dates are:

  • Friday 23rd July
  • Tuesday 10th August
  • Wednesday 25th August
  • Thursday 9th September
  • Monday 27th September

All run from 9am to 1pm; To register as a volunteer, please visit South Cumbria Rivers Trust website: https://scrt.co.uk/events/balsam-bashing/.

To give an idea of the difference we’ve made over the last 3 years, these two photos show the same area, before the Fight the Aliens event in 2019, and the same place before our event this year:

A. Himalayan Balsam Patch before the Fight the Aliens Day 2019.

B. The same Himalayan Balsam Patch before the Fight the Aliens Day 2021.