Council partners with organisation and landowners for biological control trial
Wakefield Council is working in partnership with organisations and landowners on a biological control trial for Himalayan balsam, a familiar feature of Yorkshire’s woodlands, watercourses, and waysides.
These non-native plants – with pink flowers and exploding seeds pods – are now causing serious problems in the countryside, causing soil erosion, increased flooding, and loss of habitat for our native plants and animals.
In response to this environmental threat, conservation groups and landowners in Yorkshire and across the UK have been undertaking ‘balsam bashing’ to try and reduce the dominance of this species. However, in spite of the efforts of thousands of volunteers who spend their summers pulling up this plant, Himalayan balsam is, so far, winning the battle.
In early 2015 a West Yorkshire partnership was formed, bringing together landowners, Wakefield Council, Calderdale Council, and Yorkshire Water supported by the Environment Agency, Brooks Ecological and the Calder and Colne Rivers Trust.
Following years of safety testing International research organisation CABI are planting rust-infected balsam in stands of balsam in four regions of the country to establish whether the rust – a type of fungus – can control the spread of the plant. Working with the West Yorkshire partnership CABI are using one site in Wakefield and three sites in Calderdale.
The trials will take three years and hopefully show that the rust can supress Himalayan balsam, reducing its dominance and helping our native flora to recover. The rust will then be introduced at many more sites.
Cllr Maureen Cummings, Wakefield Council’s Cabinet Member for the environment, said: “Himalayan balsam is a familiar plant and few of us realise it is actually causing damage to the environment.
“This is a fascinating project and I am pleased that the Council is involved. Hopefully, these field trials will provide information which is useful to the district and beyond. I look forward to hearing about the results.”
As its name suggests its origins of this plant lie in the foothills of the Himalayas and it made the journey to the UK as a seed in the trunk of a Victorian plant hunter in 1839.
However, within 10 years of arriving it had escaped the gardens for which it was intended and was finding a home in the natural world amongst our native plants.