Firwood Fold: Balsam Apocalypse

Balsam bashing Sunday 26th June 2022

Balsam bashing. Words that send dread and fear through the souls of conservationists everywhere. The yearly exercise of ripping up Himalayan balsam, the persistent invasive that never goes away, can be soul destroying. But should be pack up our weed whackers and let the balsam win? No. Balsam may be here but it doesn’t mean it is here to stay.

Over the last few years we have been bashing the balsam at Firwood Fold and we are now seeing the results of all that work. Compared to last year the area covered by balsam has significantly reduced, so much so that we had to think of something else to do in the afternoon. So, what is the story of balsam. The plant with the pretty pink flowers was introduced to the UK in 1839 by the Victorians as a decorative garden plant. And like many of the Victorian’s favourite exotic plans soon went on the rampage across the countryside’s water ways. Balsam creates dense stands that out compete native species, in winter it dies off leaving riverbanks and the shores of water bodies exposed to erosion. It also interferes with fish spawning areas. There are some plant experts who dispute the negative aspects of balsam and think we should just live with it. Generally though, besides the Victorians. the only creatures that likes it are bees.

Last year we did this exercise in August when many of the plants were in flower, this year we got here a bit earlier and with the exception of a handful of pink blooms the balsam was in bare naked. So, we gave it a good thrashing and left no stalk unbashed. Hopefully next year there will be even less or none at all.

With Firwood being the home ground of Bolton Green Umbrella’s organisers Barb and Trevor Hackett it seems appropriate to mention that Green Umbrella has been awarded a Bolton at Home Stars of the Community award, this link for more info.

Apocalypse Rhody

13th June 2021, Ravenden Clough, Smithills Hall

We wanted a mission, so they gave us one. Clear the jungle trails of the insidious invader, rhododendron. The Victorians brought rhody across as a bit of exotic colour, their strange love of alien species would be their undoing. Soon it had set up a beachhead and was storming across the our green and pleasant land like a magenta menace. It had to be stopped.

Our platoon set out on its dawn patrol, but Dawn had nothing to do with it so we apologised and carried on to Ravenden Clough. We were horrified at what we found, rhodys to the right of us, rhodys to the left of us, the way ahead was buried under rhody. Captain Francis cried “For Harry.. and maybe William”, and our dirty three-quarter dozen went on the attack.

We forced rhody back a metre at a time, uncovering the paths of glory, but the heat, the smell, the sweat, the ground soaked in sap, it was a nightmare; the horror, the horror. We had to dig a trench to drain away the spoils of war, it all felt like our longest day, but finally it was all quiet on the rhody front. We cleared down to the crossing over the brook and stopped, we didn’t want to go a bridge too far.

The day was ours and it was time for the great escape to the pub lead by the our beer hunter. It all happened, we know because, we were there.