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Philip Evans


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HONITON: Help tackle alien invader

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

FWAG SouthWest, the farming and wildlife charity, is co-coordinating a project to control the invasive alien plant Himalayan Balsam on the streams in the Blackdown Hills that feed into the River Otter. Himalayan Balsam (HB) is a beautiful annual plant which was sold in nurseries after its introduction from India in 1839. It is rich in nectar and attracts bees. However it is spreading rapidly and poses a threat to our native ecosystems. Because bees are so attracted to it, native plants are starved of pollinators and don’t set seed. At three metres, Himalayan Balsam is the tallest annual in Europe, shading and killing native flora, creating clear stands. These die off each autumn exposing riverbanks to erosion, silting up river beds, reducing the clear gravel essential for fish to breed, and depriving fauna, such as water voles, of protective cover against predators, Himalayan Balsam has no natural enemies to keep it in check. Seeding is prolific - each plant produces up to 800 seeds and seeds are catapulted over 7metres. Native plants can’t compete. An international framework of law obliges governments to take action against this and other invasive plants. DEFRA has placed Himalayan Balsam on its invasive ‘hit list’. The principal areas that will be tackled this year are the River Love (Luppitt), River Otter Headwaters (Upottery/Churc-hinford) and the River Wolf (Awliscombe). The project is funded by the Environment Agency but involves the River Otter Association of local landowners and anglers, the Blackdown Hills AONB and Natural England. There is a similar project taking place on the tributaries of the River Axe. The charity is looking for local farmers and volunteers from the community to help tackle this issue. FWAG will be pulling Balsam on the streams every Wednesday and Thursday throughout July as well as some other one-off events and would like as many volunteers as possible to help. They are particularly seeking to identify ‘Balsam Wardens’ who can keep an eye on their patch and help us record and control the plant. For further information, or to get involved, contact Roland Stonex (FWAG SouthWest Adviser) on 07966 200695 or email roland.stonex@fwagsw.

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