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Canal Trust keeps problem plants at bay

Volunteers have been pulling up flowering plants which look pretty but are a huge threat to a waterway restoration project in Surrey and Sussex.

They have been “bashing” Himalayan balsam along the route of the Wey & Arun Canal, to reduce the possibility of damage being caused by the invasive species.

The charity’s Wednesday Group working party has pulled up patches of the plant along the Cranleigh Waters river at Shalford, near Guildford.

Another group has tackled the problem weed around the new viewing platform built by the Trust in its Hunt Nature Park in Shalford.

“Himalayan balsam has spread there since the river flooded during the winter of 2013,” said Canal Trust Chairman Sally Schupke. “We don’t like having to pull up attractive plants but they will take over the entire area and smother other species if we don’t remove them.

“If the plants are allowed to flower they each eventually scatter hundreds of seeds around and become a dense jungle which is even harder to tackle. All other vegetation gets shaded out and dies off, leaving canal and river banks bare in winter and highly vulnerable to erosion.”

The Trust’s volunteer lengthsmen, who help maintain sections of the canal, are trained to spot areas where the balsam has started to grow and report it for eradication. It has also been tackled at sites along the canal route down to its junction with the River Arun at Pallingham in West Sussex.

“It’s a constant job to keep watch for the balsam along the banks of our canal,” said Mrs Schupke. “I’m very grateful to all our volunteers for their efforts — it’s a back-breaking job controlling this major threat to our restoration project.”

Himalayan balsam, which has clusters of purplish pink flowers, can grow up to 10ft high. It was brought to the UK as a garden plant in 1839 and is now naturalised, becoming a particular nuisance where it has spread through its seeds floating along canals and rivers.