Sunday, June 9, 2013

Frilford Heath SSSI, 8th June 2013

This was our first trip of the year to the Frilford SSSI even though we had been at the nearby golf club on a couple of occasions in the past few months.  The reason for our return?  The himalayan balsam of course.The seasonal sprouting of this invasive non-native plant will be the focus of our attentions for many of the upcoming sessions over the summer.

As I have explained on here previously, himalayan balsam, is a very persistent and fast-spreading alien plant on these shores and without intervention, it would soon crowd out the local species and reduce the bio-diversity of the areas it colonises.  When the area in question is home to rare flora and fauna such as the Frilford SSSI, our action is merited.

Nine green gym volunteers assembled at Woodhaven on Saturday morning, long-sleeved and gloved since the area also has an abundance of stinging nettles at this time of year!  Led by Margaret, we began the short walk across the meadow to the work site and despite seeing much reduced balsam growth thanks to our efforts on previous years, there was still plenty of the site to focus on.  Robert and Kevin began by removing some willow branches that had blocked the paths since our last visit and adding the cut wood to habitat piles, while the rest of us started balsam-picking in earnest.

Although the summer has only just begun, many of the plants were already fairly tall, which did at least make removal easy.  While the balsam tends to be rampant, it can be up-rooted with little effort.  This time of year is the best time to tackle it before the seeds appear and begin to disperse.  It is also an activity that can be performed with little consequence to the general wildlife in the area, since at this time of year there are plenty of creatures nesting that we do our very best to avoid disturbing.

While the day was sunny and temperatures were on the rise, the shade that the area's trees offered us was welcome.  The wearing of long sleeves was not too uncomfortable as it can be on the hottest days, although the nettles do often have the ability to penetrate clothing and produce a nasty sting!

Good progress was made, but such is the persistence of the balsam, that we will be back before long to pick up where we left off.  Our efforts will only become truly clear in the following season when the coverage of the plant can be assessed.

the group assembles at Woodhaven

tea break

himalayan balsam (centre) with some nettles and cleavers

...and some comfrey

spot the balsam-picker!

self-portrait with himalayan balsam

freshly-picked himalayan balsam


a balsam-free area of site

habitat pile

the path with overhanging willow branches removed

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