Nick’s got the beating of Himalayan balsam plant

Dr Nick Ward pictured with Himalayan Balsam in the Otter Valley, which could grow to eight feet in height later this year. Dr Nick Ward pictured with Himalayan Balsam in the Otter Valley, which could grow to eight feet in height later this year.

Thursday, April 24, 2014
3:00 PM

An East Budleigh doctor who previously led efforts to eradicate smallpox and polio has turned his attention to a new foe – a plant that threatens to wipe out native species in the Otter Valley.

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Himalayan balsam was introduced to England in 1839, and flourishes in damp areas with flowing water, growing up to eight feet in height.

In the last few years its numbers have exploded in the Otter Valley, and while it can look very pretty it poses a threat to indigenous species, writes Sean Keywood.

Dr Nick Ward said: “It’s not an unattractive flower. Bees like it. But it just takes over – it forms mats and all our native plants get swamped.

“They are going to get smothered and we are going to lose native plants if we are not careful.”

Having retired from working for the World Health Organisation, Nick moved to East Budleigh a few years ago and was shocked by the plant’s proliferation in the area.

Having approached landowner Clinton Devon Estates, Nick was told that they had a plan for the main river, but he was invited to try an eradication programme on the Budleigh Brook, between Yettington and the Otter through East Budleigh.

With a small team of volunteers, Nick used techniques he had previously deployed to fight disease in a managed campaign carried out last summer, with hugely successful results.

He said: “The plan last year was to stop the plants seeding as far as we could – for which you have to pull the whole plant out, roots and all.

“We believe there is 90 per cent less now than there was last year. We didn’t do anything clever, it was just a well managed programme with a number of committed people to show that it can be done, and to my satisfaction we have done that.

“I believe we’ve demonstrated that it can be reduced by quite a dramatic amount, making the next year’s programme one that can get rid of the problem.”

With the concept proven, Nick was due to meet with Clinton Devon Estates and the Otter Valley Association this week to discuss rolling the programme out across a wider area.

If all goes well, volunteers will then be needed to work in groups removing the balsam.

Nick says that the key is for removal to be organised and controlled, with groups working in supervised two-hour sessions yielding the best results.

He will be advertising with posters in the local area when volunteers are needed for this programme to begin.

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