Blogs and News - St George's School For Girls, Edinburgh

11 May 2017
Himalayan Balsam Pulling

Balsam 650w

As part of our Natural Connections Outdoor Learning programme, the Primary 5 girls and some U4 helpers set off along the Water of Leith on Wednesday 3 May to help on a conservation project. Our task was to pull out the Himalayan Balsam growing in the wooded area behind Bell’s Mill Meadow.

We learned that Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant species, brought over to this country in the early 1800s as an ornamental garden flower. By 1855, it had escaped the confines of the gardens and started spreading through damp habitats in woodlands and riverbanks, out-competing native species in ecologically sensitive areas.

The problem is that whilst Himalayan Balsam is very pretty, the bees think so too. They are choosing this flower to pollinate instead of own Scottish flowers. Himalayan Balsam also has a very effective way of dispersing its seeds. When the pods are ripe, they explode them into the wind and can quickly cover large areas of ground like this.

It is a race against the plant at Bell’s Mill to stop it reaching the river as if it does, the seeds will be carried downstream and the banks of the Water of Leith will be carpeted right down to the sea with Himalayan Balsam – and little else. A biodiversity activity, counting all the plant species ringed by a thrown hula-hoop, illustrated the effects of human interference on our native plants already.

Under the guidance of Charlotte Neary from the Water of Leith education team, the girls were taught how to identify Himalayan Balsam and instructed as to how to remove it and destroy it. This involved quite a bit of ripping, tearing and stomping on the plant, which the girls seemed to take great satisfaction in doing!

We had the most beautiful sunny day for our task, and coupled with the heron looking on and the kingfisher (for those lucky enough to have spotted its fleeting appearance), we had a wonderful morning and returned to school rather proud of doing our bit to help the environment.

Himalayan Balsam, watch out – the eagle-eyed P5 girls are onto you!

Mrs Sinclair

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