It’s feared the spread of a dangerously invasive plant from the Orient could soon threaten fragile wildlife habitats in the Moniack Gorge. Worried residents in the Clunes area grew alarmed last summer when Himalayan Balsam was discovered near water courses draining into the Moniack Burn. Also known as Policeman’s Helmet, Himalayan Balsam has already taken root in a number of local gardens and surrounding marshy areas. Indeed it was gardeners from Kew who first introduced this relative of the Busy Lizzie to the UK more than a century ago. Its pretty, pink, orchid like flowers are also attractive to pollinating insects. Alas the botanical experiment soon backfired spectacularly with its escape into the wild. Experts warn if it isn’t controlled it will soon choke native plants to oblivion and cause erosion. Nobody wants that to happen along the Moniack Burn – a designated SSSI.
Last summer local resident Gordon Fisher – with support from Kirkhill and Bunchrew Community Trust – organised a series of work parties to attack the weed’s march of destruction. Its ability to spread is quite breathtaking. It quickly forms dense clumps up to 3 metres high. The seed heads react to the slightest disturbance and explode hundreds of seeds a distance of 7 metres. These seeds can survive two years in the ground or be transported even further through water courses. Specialists at SNH have been consulted and fully support the work already underway by the community volunteers. However more help is needed over the coming weeks. Himalayan Balsam is an annual. In fact it is believed to be one of the fastest growing annual plants in the UK, and is also recognised by environmental agencies as one of the most destructive species of non native weed. So it has to be uprooted and destroyed before the explosive seed heads get a chance to form. Experts advise that because the seeds only last 2-3 years the problem is very controllable – if it is tackled consistently over two or three successive seasons. This summer’s work is being carried out under the auspices of the Trust to build on the start which was made by last year’s local volunteers
The battle is already all but lost in some other parts of the UK. Please prevent this happening in the area feeding into the Moniack Burn. If you can spare a few hours please contact Gordon Fisher on 01463 831540 and join one of this summer’s work parties. The good news is the roots of the mature Himalayan Balsam are easily pulled out. It isn’t toxic and doesn’t sting.
So make new friends. Help to eradicate Himalayan Balsam. Above all SAVE OUR GORGE.