Bash the balsam at Torrington next week!

Joseph Bulmer

Volunteers needed to join community project to clear invasive weed

BASH the balsam next week at a special volunteering event on the Tarka Trail near Torrington!

One Tuesday (June 28) the North Devon AONB and Biosphere Service will launch the first of three annual projects to remove the Himalayan Balsam, an alien invasive weed also know as Policeman’s Helmet or Jumping Jack, from the edges of the Tarka Trail near Torrington.

Volunteers of all ages are welcome at the event on Tuesday from 10am- 4pm.

The group will meet in the Tarka Trail overflow car park beside the Puffing Billy pub just north of Torrington. They will walk to Beam weir where the Himalayan Balsam is most common.

This green leafy invader was first introduced from the west and central Himalayas in the 18th century. It is now widespread throughout England and is one of the country’s fastest growing plants, achieving up to three metre height in one summer.

It grows along river corridors where the combination of explosive seed heads and flowing water mean the seeds can be dispersed over large areas. If left, it can increase the risk of flooding and river bank erosion, prevent access to the river for recreational activities and harm native vegetation and wildlife.

In order for the weed to be banished from the area completely, the plants need to be pulled up by hand before the flowers set seed in July.

This must be repeated for three years because each plant grows new from seed each year and this is how long the seeds can survive in the earth. It only takes a couple of seasons for the seed bank to be exhausted and the plant to be eradicated.

“Weeds such as the Himalayan Balsam are particularly aggressive plants that cause big problems for our local eco system,” said

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Environment.

“I am really pleased that so many members of the community have expressed an interest in helping protect the valuable biodiversity of this area and prevent the issues this plant can cause. I would encourage everyone who enjoys North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve to come along and help protect it.”

Tom Hynes, Countryside Officer at the North Devon ANOB and Biosphere Service added:

“There are many stretches of river in the Biosphere Reserve where Himalayan Balsam has taken over from the native flowers that should be growing on the riverbank.

“We cannot eradicate this invasive plant on our own, but we are hoping that this project will encourage other land owners to do their bit and help native wildlife by pulling up this weed before the seeds ripen in July.”

For information, or to book a place on the project, please contact Tom Hynes at the North Devon ANOB & Biosphere Service on (01237) 423655 or email