AHNE Bryniau Clwyd / Clwydian Range AONB

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Himalayan balsam 

It doesn’t look much like a triffid. In fact Himalayan balsam with its sweet-smelling pink flowers looks rather attractive swaying gently on a riverbank. 

Himalayan BalsamThe Victorians certainly thought so. They brought it back from trips to the east and planted it in their gardens. But they should have left it in the Himalayas where it belonged. 

Because this ornamental plant, otherwise known as policeman’s helmet, is an invasive species that’s doing untold damage along our watercourses.

It forms dense stands up to three metres high that choke native vegetation, provide little or no food for our wildlife and stop frustrated anglers getting to the water. Then it dies back, leaving great bare patches of riverbank that are prone to erosion.

It even has exploding pods that can shoot out seeds to a distance of seven metres. Seeds that can begin to germinate underwater. So once established it spreads downstream like wildfire.

Unless you do something about it, that is. Which is where the Alyn Valley Himalayan Balsam Project comes in.

Since 2008 this project has mobilised local councils, statutory agencies, conservation bodies, community groups and an army of volunteers to eradicate the invading plants all the way along the River Alyn from Llandegla to Mold. 

And what’s the best way to kill a triffid? Well, you can do it with a strimmer. You can try a flail. Or you can use chemical control. 

But if you’ve got the people power at your disposal, the best way is to pull up the shallow-rooted plant by hand, break the stem and leave it well back from the river to compost. 

It’s vital to do this when the Himalayan balsam is in flower but before it goes to seed – otherwise you’re likely to do more harm than good. June is the best time. 

That’s when you’ll see volunteers in wellies and gloves yanking up armfuls of balsam all along the Alyn Valley. Some will be in ones and twos, doing their own thing, while others will be part of big organised groups. 

“The volunteers have been really committed and their work is already starting to pay dividends,” said Denbighshire’s biodiversity officer, Lizzie Webster. “In some places that used to be a sea of pink there are only a few plants left. 

“The seeds are only viable for two or three years so, once we have eradicated all the plants and eliminated the source, the riverbank should stay clear.”

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