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Conservation and Conversation

Posted: Thursday 18th June 2015 by 30DaysWild2015

Himalayan balsamHimalayan balsam

A morning's practical management work in a nearby Wildlife Trust reserve.

Conservation and conversation

Chance Wood is about 500m from my front door if you are not familiar with the wood it's worth a look here.  Quiet and secluded it is nevertheless a well loved spot for walkers from nearby Kinver and Stourbridge.  The woodland has a natural feel but has many naturalised plant species present, some benign and some which cause problems.

The wood lies in the Stour valley, the river is less than 100m away and as such the rampant, invasive Himalayan balsam has spread from the river banks across the floodplain and into the bottom of the wood.  This plant spreads rapidly and grows densely, blocking light beneath it and resulting in other native plants being suppressed.  This is a particular problem on river banks as, when the balsam dies, the banks are left bare and subject to unnatural erosion.  I don't, however , want to write about the problems of balsam or the fact that it does provide nectar to insects later in the season or, for biology teachers, provides surprisingly fun examples of seed dispersal!

Volunteer 'balsam bashing'I would, however, like to mention that this morning has provided a very enjoyable Act of Nature, if not exactly Random! A small group of volunteers gathered this morning to try to tackle the thick growth of the plant before it begins to flower.  Pulling and stacking the plants is a fairly gentle activity, it's small root system means that it pulls up quite satisfyingly and an impressive pile soon builds up.  No petrol driven chainsaws or strimmers, no need to work at a distance from other volunteers and so the benefits of balsam pulling are that conversation can flow uninterrupted - and so it did; from family life to plant identification or cooking to wildlife: "Is that a blackcap or a garden warbler?" "Did you see the young fox?" "How's retirement going?" "Do you ever get any spare time?" "Look at this fungus!" "Have you seen a glow worm this year?".  Conversation rolls on, interupted only by a cake and coffee, until our time is up and we have two piles, one higher than a volunteer!

Piles of balsam

For an alternative take on balsam, listen to Richard Mabey here: "Mabey in the Wild".  Richard's voice takes me back to my teenage years, listening to the BBC's Living World, another one of those inspirations to become interested in the Natural World.

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