Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Balsam Bashing on the River Dodder

If I write too much about my local River Dodder, it's only because this urban stream is my nearest and dearest source of a peaceful, natural retreat from the noise of the city. A place to fish, to sit, to watch the wildlife, and enjoy the simpler things in life.

A new addition to my river-protecting volunteer projects is the removal of harmful invasive species from the river. Dublin recently celebrated Biodiversity Week, a time to celebrate the wide array of native plants and animals. Native being the important word, as exotic species introduced (intentionally or unintentionally) by humans pose a threat to many fragile ecosystems.

In Ireland, one such invader is the garden escapee Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). This admittedly attractive garden plant proliferates on riverbanks, its seeds carried on the water to take root downstream. It grows quickly and drives out native Irish riverbank plants before seeding and dying out itself, leaving a bare bank prone to erosion with the winter floods.

To celebrate Biodiversity Week, Dublin City Council Biodiversity invited the community to the riverbanks for a quick lesson in balsam identification and eradication. I jumped in with other members of Dodder Action and some environmentally-minded employees of a riverside business to bash some balsam. 

Our First Specimen
Our First Specimen

It wasn't long after we received our identification training that we were hauling out handfuls of this harmful plant. After less than an hour, our team of a dozen volunteers had nabbed buckets and bags of the stuff, leaving one small (but not insignificant) stretch of river free for the native plants to once again take hold.

The Team and the Harvest
The Team and the Harvest

Destined for Compost
Destined for Compost

Local enthusiasts gathering each spring to pull balsam have completely wiped it out on the banks of the Blackwater – another river in Southwest Ireland – and Dublin's biodiversity team hopes that such a community-led initiative can accomplish the same thing here. It is inspiring volunteer efforts like this that keep me hopeful for the future of our urban and suburban habitats. In the twenty-first century, conservation and caring are no longer just for green-minded radicals.

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