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A wonderful plant to get children interested in nature, writes Jillian Macready, is Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) as the seed heads explode on touch when they are ready to disperse. However, this makes it a major weed problem, invading gardens and allotments but especially riverbanks and waste ground which don’t attract gardeners dedicated to spotting it before it gets out of hand. Some river catchments have acres and acres of nothing but HB and it is a serious problem for councils, water companies and the Environment Agency.
The plant is pretty and its helmet-shaped pink flowers are much loved by bees but each plant has the ability to produce 800 seeds and when the seed head explodes, its load is carried downstream in the water to infect other parts of the river.
It is also a fast growing annual, quickly getting to 10 ft in the right conditions and tolerant of shade and difficult areas so it can grow anywhere, shading out the natural vegetation. They and other non-native invasive plants displace native species and detrimentally affect the ecology of many vulnerable habitats. Its huge hollow stems and fleshy leaves are mostly water, so in the winter it dies down to nothing, leaving bare river banks which are then able to wash into the river with the first heavy rain.
This isn’t the only plant the Victorians brought to Britain as they were avid plant collectors from all round the world, but they had no idea of the damage some of these plant would wreak. Some £2bn of tax payers’ money is spent each year reducing some of the non-native invasive species which have naturalised here. HB is relatively easy to remove as it can be pulled easily with bare hands but others such as Giant Hogweed (pictured) can cause serious skin irritations, rash and sensitivity to sunlight if touched and Japanese knotweed is virtually impossible to irradiate with weed killer. Luckily Japanese Knotweed has not been reported in Bury St Edmunds but it is in parts of East Anglia.
We do have some Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) in the River Linnet in Bury St Edmunds but the council is aware of it and has a programme of irradiation. It’s worth familiarising yourself with it so that you don’t touch it by mistake as it can be mistaken for the harmless and very beneficial native Hogweed or cow parsley to which it is related and which must not be removed. It has thick bristly stems that are often blotched purple unlike hogweed or cow parsley and is twice the size once it flowers. It’s biennial so has a rosette of jagged lobed leaves in the first year and then sends up an enormous hogweed-like flower spike of white flowers the following year.
The EA and other bodies have joined forces to help combat the spread of the UK’s most problematic invasive non-native plant species by coming up with Plant tracker. The first step in tackling this problem is accurately determining where the plants might be and they need our help with this. Plant tracker is also an App for Iphones and Androids so you can notify the Agency while you are out walking.
Speak to us if you don’t know how to use the website or App or report it to us if you see Giant Hogweed or Japanese Knotweed. A successful “Balsam bashing” work party was carried out recently, with another on Sunday 23rd July in the areas of the Linnet which we didn’t manage to check. If you want to join us next time, please get in contact here. Also, don’t forget the workshop coming up later in August.
We are now working with The River Lark Catchment Partnership, the group for the whole of the Lark River as this provides direct access to Environment Agency (EA) technical advice, funding and facilitation of formal permits needed to get the work done.
The good news is that the EA has received funding for work on the Lark for 2017-18 and probably the two following years. This can be distributed to partner groups such as BWMG and the angling clubs who have done so much over the years on river restoration work, for projects such as the one we got involved in in March this year to lay wildflower turf and put coir matting in the river for marginal habitat. For this work, we were able to use both our trained in-channel volunteers and planting volunteers. If you want to get involved in volunteering please contact us.
The next Bury site is likely to be where the Lark runs between Bell Meadow and the British Sugar woodlands.
Here’s an old map from 1823 showing the River Lark from Bury St Edmunds to Mildenhall (from St Edmundsbury Chronicle)
Last October we planted wildflower plugs in No Mans Meadow. In February this year we planted European White Elms which had been supplied by Butterfly Conservation and in March, at the same time as litter picking and the river restoration project mentioned above, we laid turf seeded with wildflowers on the banks of the Lark by the Abbots Bridge in the Abbey gardens. So we have come a long way in a short time! There is a lot more to do and we hope with the support of the EA, through funding and the support of the Borough, we will be able to do more in due course.
Of the 50 Elms planted in the Crankles and No Mans Meadow, not one has failed, despite great competition from stinging nettles. We will be able to do some weeding round the plants in due course. The turf is still looking good despite the driest spring for 20 years in East Anglia – all thanks to the Borough staff who provided the standpipe and hose and some of our own members who have given up time to do watering.
The Cam and Ely Ouse (CamEO) Catchment Partnership is hosting a non-native invasive species workshop on August 22nd that will bring partners together to discuss the primary species of concern and take a look at recent actions that are already underway to control their spread.
The workshop will cover the legacy of the RINSE project as well as the latest research coming from Cambridge University and the Non-Native Species Secretariat; however, the majority of the time will be set aside for partners to discuss their ongoing efforts and ambitions in an attempt to align our activities effectively to tackle invasive species at the catchment scale.
You can book a ticket for free here.
Most walks along the Lark valley in Bury are now rewarded with a sighting of a little egret in, or close to, the water, brilliant white. The RSPB says the little egret is a small white heron with attractive white plumes on crest, back and chest, black legs and bill and yellow feet. It first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996. Its colonization followed naturally from a range expansion into western and northern France in previous decades. It is now at home on numerous south coast sites, both as a breeding species and as a winter visitor.
Little egret is not to be mistaken with the much rarer great white heron, although they look similar from a distance. This BTO video explains the differences, but look out for the yellow feet and black bill of little egret.
This video was taken from the Lark bridge at the Crankles (facing the Abbey gardens) in February 2017.
This Sunday 7th May from 1.00pm for an hour or so, The Bury Water Meadows Group is carrying out a reptile survey with the help of a local ecologist, Nick Sibbett. We will learn how to set up the survey, how to record the wildlife we find and what to do with the data. The survey needs to last about 7 weeks so that creatures get used to finding the mats to hide under. We will need to come back to the mats during the summer but I will set up a rota so that no more than one return per person will be expected and it will be at your convenience!
If you want to take part please let me know in the first instance that you want to come. All you have to do is bring gardening gloves and suitable clothing as I think it will still take place if it rains. Amphibians and reptiles like the rain!
On March 19th teams from Bury Water Meadows Group (BWMG) and the River Lark Catchment Partnership (RLCP) undertook a range of restoration and litter picking activities.
Five different work parties went in different directions on the Sunday morning, from their Base Camp in the Crankles. The Bury Water Meadows Group was on a mission to get three litter picking operations, one turf laying project on the river bank by Abbot’s bridge and one river restoration project underneath the foot bridge in the Abbey gardens carried out by the end of March, or vital funding from the Environment Agency via the RLCP would be lost.
First out at 9am was the river restoration group. Not content with his very successful restoration of the River Lark at West Stow, Glenn Smithson, a River Lark angler and RLCP member, was the obvious choice of man to get the job done. Armed with a £2500 grant from the Environment Agency, Glenn was able to buy all the materials needed for softening up the concrete side. This includes coir matting impregnated with marginal plants held in position by posts rammed into the river bed. Faggots made of willow have also been put in place to create habitat for waders and water creatures to live.
Narrowing of the channel needs to take place so that the water flow increases and moves the sediment down river. The Lark is a chalk stream and should be good for spawning trout and salmon but the water is sluggish so sediment builds up and there are too many man-made structures on the bank to benefit wildlife in that stretch. Volunteers from the Bury Water Meadows Group who had been specially trained to work safely in the river were guided with Glenn’s expertise to get the first part of the job done
A further work session will be needed to carry out a similar action on the opposite bank.
Bank erosion on the Abbey Garden side was also a problem since dredging and bank modification had been carried out last year, so Glenn suggested this side be stabilised with planting and for this operation he teamed up with Jillian Macready, founder member of Bury Water Meadows Group and BWMG representative on the RLCP. She suggested wildflower turf would knit the soil together as well as providing valuable nectar plants for our beleaguered bees.
Thanks to Simon Collin and Council colleagues, who prepared the site for the turf to be laid and another team of Bury Water Meadows group volunteers, 60 sq metres of turf was laid at the same time on Sunday morning. The turf mats are made up of a mixture of 50% native wildflowers and 50% native grasses all beneficial to insects, these are sown into a substrate which is knitted onto biodegradable netting. This makes for easy handling of the turf. Will Cranstoun of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust volunteered his expertise and Simon Collin of St Edmundsbury Council was on hand to help with perfect turf laying. Welcome rain followed on Tuesday!
As if this wasn’t enough, three different litter picking teams were dispatched from the Crankles.
For the first time BWMG organised a group for the Butts and one for Holywater Meadows.
Ditches full of cans and litter were attacked with energy – hopefully now many people will choose to not drop their litter –that has been our experience on No Mans Meadows!
Afterwards, BWMG chairman Andrew Hinchley thanked everyone involved and said:
It’s been a great day and moving up to five groups working has taken us up a huge level in capability for BWMG and the River Lark Catchment Partnership.
Special thanks to our professional volunteers: Will Cranstoun (Suffolk Wildlife Trust), Sam Hurst (Environment Agency) and volunteers Jillian Macready and Glenn Smithson who worked on all the advance preparation, as well as today. Thanks to Rob Clapham (Environment Agency) who worked on delivering the grant and advance planning including the permits needed. BWMG members paid £400 for insurance,new waders and angling “catch” nets.
See also the Bury Free Press article about the day.
Wednesday 1st March, meeting in the Crankles 9.30am to 12 noon
We have a number of elms to plant in No Mans Meadow and along the Lark banks. These are European White Elms which hopefully will replace the job done by native English elms which don’t get to maturity anymore. The White Letter Hairstreak butterfly is now a rare sight as a result of the devastation caused by Dutch Elm disease on native elm. However the beetle that causes the disease seems unable to wreak the same havoc on European White elms. This work party is taking place on a Wednesday to be able to take advantage of Borough staff on hand.
Please register your interest even if it’s only to say you can only do weekends!
Contact us to REGISTER YOUR INTEREST WITH JILLIAN
Sunday 19th March at the Crankles
Litter picking has now become a regular feature and we aim for two a year; one that coincides with Keep Britain Tidy big clean up (more or less) and one on World Rivers Day at the end of September. March is a good time as the vegetation is still low and hasn’t started growing.
A word about the difference between the in-channel pickers and the on-land pickers. A few of our members were trained in water safety so that when work is eventually carried out to restore the river these people can operate safely.
Please contact us if you want to join in.