Himalayan Balsam Advice

Himalayan Balsam in the Clun Catchment

The Problem

A tall, attractive, annual herb with explosive seed heads. Although easy to identify as a mature plant with its pink-purple flowers, fleshy stem and characteristic leaves, the seedlings and last year’s dead stems of this annual are more difficult to spot.

Introduced as a garden plant in the early 19th century and first recorded in the wild in 1855. Often favoured by the general public for its aesthetic appeal. Now widespread in the UK, especially along rivers. Spreads solely by seeds, which are small and easily carried by wind or water.

It out-competes native species in ecologically sensitive areas, particularly river banks. Where it grows in dense stands along river banks it can impede flow at times of high rainfall, increasing the likelihood of flooding. Die back of extensive stands over winter can leave river banks bare and exposed to erosion.

We know that Himalayan Balsam occurs in the Clun Catchment. We need to act now before it gets to be a bigger problem.

Your Responsibilities

Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence under section 14(2) of the Act to “plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild” any plant listed in Schedule 9, Part II. (The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 include increased penalties available to the courts for offences committed under W&CA).

The Cross Compliance standards apply to all landholders claiming the Single Farm Payment and anyone claiming certain Rural Development schemes. Under  ‘Control of Weeds (GAEC 11)’, each landowner “must take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of specified invasive non-native weeds and injurious weeds on [his] land and onto adjoining land.”

Key ID Features – click on image to enlarge

The Clun Himalayan Balsam Project

The plant, Himalayan Balsam, is also known as Jumping Jack, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops, Gnome’s Hatstand and Kiss-me-on-the-Mountain. Despite these amusing names the plant is in fact a highly invasive weed of riverbanks and damp places, such as woodland, and far from a laughing matter!

Nationally, it has been estimated that it would take £150-300 million to control. 2013 marks the start of a campaign to control its spread in the Clun catchment.

The Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership secured funding from Natural England during 2013 to map the distribution of Himalayan Balsam and develop a strategy for its control. A pilot study to control the plant was also conducted around Clun. With support from the Environment Agency, River Project Officers, Mike Kelly and Ewa Prokop, surveyed for the plant in the Clun Catchment Survey effort focused on the main stretches of the Clun, Unk, Kemp, Hopesay Brook and Redlake. 41km of the watercourses were found to be affected.

Landowners are encouraged to fulfill their responsibilities by joining in with controlling the plant on their own land downstream of Clun.

Control Methods

Handpulling – This must be undertaken so that the whole plant is uprooted and is normally best done if pulled from low down the plant. If snapping occurs at a node the pulling much be completed to include the roots. Plants can be left on site to decompose. For maximum effectiveness this control method should be undertaken in June-mid July. This may need to be undertaken for up to three years in the same area.

Strimming – All stems must be completely severed below the lowest node or joint. If done too early the plant will continue to grow and seed; if done too late, there is risk of spreading the seed. June is normally the best time of year to undertake strimming. Alternatively, the area may be regularly mown. Plants can be left on site to decompose. This may need to be undertaken a couple of times in any one year and up to three years in the same area.

Herbicide Treatment – Where hand-pulling or strimming are not appropriate, weed-wiping or chemical spraying of Himalayan Balsam is another viable control method. Spraying is best undertaken before June, before plants have grown too high, though may still be undertaken later as long as it is before seeding takes place. Usual precautions need to be taken when using chemicals (eg. appropriate weather conditions). It is necessary for anyone applying pesticide not on their own land, to be certificated. Approval from the Environment Agency (application form AqHerb01) is needed before undertaking any spraying next to the river. Treatment of germinating seedlings may need to be undertaken for up to three years. It is preferable not to use this method where there are other wildflower species of interest (including Schedule 8 Wildlife & Countryside Act species).

To download this information in PDF format, please click here.

A survey for Himalayan Balsam was undertaken during the Spring and Summer of 2013. The results are contained in a Survey Report, which you can download below:

For further information please contact mike.kelly@shropshire.gov.uk.