A campaign by national waterways charity The Inland Waterways Association, to control an invasive plant which causes damage along many canals and rivers, has won the Natural Environment category at the Living Waterways Awards in London on 8th October.
Himalayan balsam is a non-native plant which has spread across the waterway network, crowding out native plants and reducing biodiversity. IWA’s campaign, which has increased in strength in the four years since it began, saw volunteers undertake a record 25 work parties on 14 different waterways in 2015, bringing together over 250 volunteers who cleared 17 miles of towpath and banks.
To promote and support the campaign this year IWA held a Himalayan Balsam Awareness Week in May, before the main growth season, featuring a range of educational awareness resources and a step-by-step guide for organising work parties, all available online at IWA’s website. This resulted in many other organisations, some not directly involved with the waterways, being inspired to join the campaign.
On receiving the award on behalf of the Association, IWA’s Campaigns Officer, Alison Smedley said "Himalayan balsam affects navigation by increasing dredging requirements and limiting places to moor. It also inhibits the diversity of native wild flowers and even the fish population, so it is in everybody's interests to control it where we can. This award recognises the effort and dedication of everyone who has taken part and I’d like to thank every volunteer, boater, walker or passer-by who has ever pulled up a bit of Himalayan balsam as a result of IWA’s awareness campaign.”
IWA already has plans to expand the approach for next year’s Himalayan balsam pulling season, by re-seeding with locally appropriate native plants, as well as increasing the number of locations where Himalayan balsam work parties are held.
Pictured left to right are Rob Howes of Fountains; Alison Smedley, IWA Campaigns Officer; Simon Thurley, CRT Trustee and ceremony host.