We're delighted to feature an update sent to us by Ken Taylor, Himalayan Balsam (HB) Control co-ordinator for Rothay Catchment/Sout Cumbria Rivers Trust (SCRT) Volunteer. Referring to recent articles in our Conserving Lakeland magazine about balsam control around Rydal and White Moss, Ken provides us with a little more context about the work and some extra clarity on the amazing progress achieved. 

Recent editions of Friends of the Lake District's Conserving Lakeland magazine have featured HB control around Rydal and White Moss but I feel a little more context is needed to fully appreciate what’s been achieved here. 

Back in late 2018, Ruth Kirk asked me (a volunteer with South Cumbria Rivers Trust – SCRT) if there was merit in organising a balsam ‘bash’.  “Too late this year, but I have just the thing for next year”.  Thus started the collaboration between SCRT and Friends of the Lake District that led to areas around White Moss being transformed from a sea of pink aliens to a resurgence of native species, in just 5 years.

Pictured: Then and now: White Moss July 2018 (left) July 2023 (right)

In 2019, we did two bashes and Ruth pushed me to estimate the number of alien plants destroyed in these Fight the Aliens Days. On the first one, we had 72 volunteers, plus 6 people with strimmers, working all morning, a smaller turnout for the second. My ‘heroic’ estimates put the figure for the two events somewhere near a million. Long-term success here is measured in FEW plants, not more. So far this year, we’ve pulled around 1,700 plants from 11 of the 12 patches (one patch still produces more plants than we can bother to count, but we’re working on it). (The figure of 300 mentioned in the earlier article is misleading.)

The take away message is – we can beat it if we try hard enough, although absence is a harder ‘sell’ than presence. Some say that “it’s too late, too well-established. We should focus our resources on other invasives.” But, apart from a small amount of officer time, use of Friends of the Lake District’s and South Cumbria Rivers Trust’s institutional ‘platform’, aided with support in cash and kind from most affected landowners, it has been a campaign organised by volunteers for volunteers. It can be replicated. I would like to see a concept developed of a Balsam Free Zone.  We are close to that now in the Rothay, upper Brathay (above Elterwater) and the Kent catchments. Plans are afoot to tackle the lower Brathay and Troutbeck (partnered by National Trust). So, some Lakeland rivers could stand out as exemplars, in stark contrast to many others around the country.

I've written a more detailed blog post about the work to date and included many more before and after images which capture just how far we've come and how much we have achieved with the help of our amazing volunteers. Read it here>

Ken Taylor, HB Control co-ordinator for Rothay Catchment/SCRT Volunteer