Help Beat the Balsam

by Editorial Team
Published: Last Updated on

…with the River Foss Society

Himalayan Balsam is an invasive non-native weed which outgrows native species. It is a shallow-rooted annual which dies back each autumn leaving riverbanks without a root structure to bind them and so liable to erosion.

The secret of its success is that each plant can release 500+ seeds which are distributed by the wind and by the river itself. These seeds can survive in the ground for 3 or 4 years and grow when given a chance, so there’s no quick fix.

Introduced by the Victorians as a decorative garden plant, it is now a problem across the country and the only environmentally sound way to keep it under control is to pull it up. And this is where everyone can help.

Walkers, dog walkers and families can all help by pulling up balsam plants when they are out and about, particularly on the riverbanks, and it would be great if you and your friends and families could ‘adopt’ a section near where you live and have a go at clearing it over the next few weeks.

As Himalayan Balsam is so shallow-rooted, it’s easy (and satisfying!) to pull up. It does not have to be cleared away or bagged, it can just be left on the ground. Just make sure you pull the root up too. The downside is that it is usually to be found in amongst the nettles, so trousers, long sleeves and gloves are a must. It may not be an ideal activity for smaller children, but it’s a fun and useful one for older children. As it’s often found both on the banks and along the water’s edge, make sure everyone stays safe on the steeper and more slippery bits.

‘The River Foss Society and its members regularly organise sessions to tackle sections of the River Foss and this is the time of year to get pulling before the plants flower and run to seed,’ said Society vice-Chair John Millett. ‘Fortunately, this is a perfect Socially Distanced group activity, so we can still do what needs to be done, but as many of our more elderly members are shielding, we need more people to help’.

See the River Foss Society website ( ) for more information on Himalayan Balsam; and to contact us about when and where we will be pulling.

‘If everyone pulled up 10 – 20 plants every time they went out for a walk, we’d soon see real progress and fewer plants next year’, says River Foss Society Events Organiser Mike Gray, ‘It’s a very satisfying way to do something really useful and it can become a bit addictive too.’

‘Just remember to take some gardening or rubber gloves out with you whenever you go for a walk, to avoid being stung by nettles’, he added

Help us beat the Balsam: identify a patch to clear and go and do it. Safely!!

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