Himalayan Balsam Bashing on the Caldon Canal


Issue date: 9th July 2012

Volunteers from IWA Stoke-on-Trent branch have been joining forces with other charity and volunteer friends to tackle the highly invasive plant Himalayan Balsam on the Caldon Canal

A Balsam Bashing work party took place at Cheddleton on 5th July with local volunteers from IWA Stoke-on-Trent Branch and the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust and a team from Central Shires Waterways - during their first week as Canal & River Trust, the new charity taking over from British Waterways.
Following on from events led by the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust (CUCT) last year, Alison Smedley of IWA Stoke-on-Trent branch is coordinating even more Himalayan Balsam Bashing sessions in the Churnet Valley this summer, in conjunction with CRT, CUCT, RSPB, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, Churnet Valley Railway and North Staffordshire Railway volunteers.

Alison explains,” Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant introduced to Britain in the mid 19th Century by Victorian gardeners. It is the tallest annual plant in the UK, growing to a height of over three metres and very problematic because it crowds out native plants and can take over whole areas of river and canal bank. The seeds explode from the seed pod and up to 800 per plant are released which can travel for up to seven metres from the plant. If the seeds land in a stream, river or canal they will be taken downstream where they will start a new colony, which is one of the reasons this plant is so difficult to control.”

Julie Arnold, Chairman of the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust, reported that work by volunteers is already making a difference, “Last year we focussed on the river section of the Caldon Canal, as it flows towards Consall Forge. There is already a decrease in the plants growing there this year. It shows that if we all hit the Himalayan Balsam hard again this year we can make a real difference, gradually halting the invasion of this plant and allowing species native to the Churnet Valley to re-establish.”

“More work parties are planned this summer and the campaign will continue in the future. Joint initiatives are getting underway as part of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership project which will bring a host of environmental benefits to this special part of the Staffordshire Moorlands.”

Alison continued: “Himalayan Balsam bashing is a fairly easy task – it pulls up easily and we are slashing the larger areas of it. The various organisations are collaborating on land around and between the canal, river and railway, and everybody is welcome to join in. All equipment is provided, along with tea and coffee – you just need to bring yourselves and some waterproofs in case of rain!

“It is a fantastic way to spend time in the beautiful Churnet Valley; all ages can get involved, doing as much as they are able. Children that come along have great fun too; they are very welcome, accompanied and supervised by an adult. So it is a great activity for all the family; you can spot wildlife, see boats and join in with other friends of the waterways and the Churnet Valley.”

Darren Green, waterway manager for Central Shires said; “We’re delighted to be continuing the long tradition of working in partnership with volunteers on the Caldon Canal. This project is a fantastic example of local people taking an active role in improving their environment and working together to keep their local canal special. As responsibility for canals and rivers in England & Wales transfers from British Waterways to a new charity, the Canal & River Trust, communities will have many more opportunities to get involved in this way. This support, combined with plans already in place to improve towpaths in the area, will ensure that the Caldon Canal has a really bright future”.

This year canal volunteers have also tackled Himalayan Balsam around Consall Forge whilst a team led by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has been bashing the invasive plant on more canal-side land in Cheddleton.  Another work party in partnership with North Staffordshire Railway volunteers is planned at Froghall on Friday 13 July, 10.00 to 13.00 hrs, on land around the canal and Churnet Valley Railway. Meet where the road to Ipstones crosses the Caldon Canal, by the entrance to Froghall Tunnel.

To find out more you can also call Alison Smedley on 01538 385388 or 7779 090915 or email to alison.smedley@waterways.org.uk.  Other Himalayan Balsam Bashing events, including elsewhere around the country, can be found listed under Events.

Top photo © Alison Smedley

Bottom photo © Julie Arnold, Waterway Images