Reclaiming the River Chelt
By Matt Hall | 5th August 2022
A project to remove Himalayan balsam, a non-native invasive plant species, from the River Chelt has launched this month.
Cheltenham Borough Council's green space team are working with volunteers and landowners to control its spread over the next few years. The first volunteer session was supported by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who provided training and guidance on how to control it.
Himalayan balsam was introduced to the UK in 1839 and poses a serious threat to our native flora and fauna. It quickly outcompetes native plants by forming dense vegetation, shading out native plants and reducing plant diversity.
Whilst many native riverside plants have strong roots that remain through winter, binding banks together and helping prevent erosion, the balsam dies off completely in winter, leaving bare ground and river banks vulnerable to soil erosion.
The balsam also has high sugar nectar which tempts bees and other pollinators away from native plants, which are less likely to be pollinated and set less seed.
Emma Settle from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, said: "We're delighted to help support this project, which can only succeed with the help of willing landowners and dedicated volunteers. One of the most effective ways to control the spread of this plant is to pull it out by hand and it's great to see how rewarding the volunteers find clearing stretches of the River Chelt and improving their local river habitat."
Lucy Wise, community ranger at Cheltenham Borough Council, added: "This project will continue over the next few summers and we hope it becomes a regular piece of work with our volunteers and helps reduce the issues that the plant is causing.
"Please get in touch if you'd like to get involved and help or if you're a landowner and you're aware that you have it growing in your watercourse."
Cllr Alisha Lewis, cabinet member for climate emergency, said: "This is a fantastic partnership approach to a serious issue that's affecting many of the county's waterways and I'd like to thank everyone that's taken part so far.
"Volunteering not only helps us hugely in our work, it's a great way to have fun and meet people. All our volunteers are given training and kit, such as waders and gloves, so they know exactly what to do."
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