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Saturday, 7 July 2007

Aliens and a good lay

Blunts Wood is a green paradise separating the towns of Cuckfield and bustling Haywards Heath. I recently joined the Friends of Blunts Wood to lay a path for wheelchair access to this oasis of calm. Just five of us turned up at 9am one Saturday for path laying.

There is nothing like a good lay on a Saturday morning. And the earth moved for us, as you can see – all 3 tons of it!

On Tuesday 3rd July, with marbled white butterflies flying around, I walked the North Downs up the steep slopes of Box Hill and Juniper Hill north of Dorking and then down, over the river Mole and around the other side of the valley.

The wild garlic leaves are dying now in the woods by the river, yet still deliver a pungent smell if trodden on.

Box Hill is named after the Box trees growing there and Juniper Hill for the same reason.

But are these plants really native?

According to Natural England there are 2,721 non-native species and hybrids in the wild in England, most of which have escaped from gardens.The vast majority of non-native species don’t cause any environmental or economic problems but some species can cause considerable damage. Japanese knotweed, for example, can grow through concrete, damage property and destroy habitats by swamping the other plants.

It is expected to cost tens of millions of pounds to deal with knotweed and other invasive plants on land destined to host infrastructure for the 2012 London Olympics. And it is not just the UK that suffers. €2.4 million was spent to treat Japanese Knotweed on 1% of Germany’s railways. The West of Ireland is heavily infested with it too.

So imagine my horror, when is such idyllic surroundings, I came face to face with this Japanese invader, shown above, which had been cut back, somewhat in vain!

This is a historic area. Admiral Lord Nelson allegedly met with Lady Hamilton at the Burford Bridge Hotel 1 mile upstream from here. Nelson may have attested to her innocence. “If she is not a virgin, you can tear off my arm and poke out my eye!” he might have said!

Another invading species is Himalayan balsam, picture below. It is growing on both sides of the river between a quite splendid, presumably
Victorian, sewer pipe suspended on cables and the footbridge tacked onto the side of the railway bridge. Isn’t it the prettiest sewer pipe you ever did see?

According to The UK Environment Agency, Himalayan or Indian balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) was introduced to Britain in 1839, but escaped from gardens and rapidly colonised riverbanks and areas of damp ground. Himalayan balsam grows in dense stands that suppress the growth of native grasses and other flora. Since cattle and sheep can graze it, control is somewhat easier than the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, which has no predators in the UK.

But the sheep could not reach these plants and they were thriving.

Another alien here is the parakeet. It is strange to see these parrot-like birds flying around, which now breed in much of South East England. Fruit growers in Kent may be right to be nervous of them.

The National Trust land on and around Box Hill is a lovely area to walk, with access by train, in case you are tempted.


5 July 2007

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