Saturday, 1 June 2013

Exterminate! Ridding Hempstead Meadow of alien invaders

Each Saturday in June, starting today, there is a task day in the Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve. The idea is to remove the pretty but thuggish Himalayan Balsam. A group of us located and pulled up seedlings to stop the adult plants overwhelming the native flora later in the year.

Himalayan Balsam seedlings, circled.
As the photo shows, at the moment the seedlings look small and inoffensive but later in the year the plants will be taller than me and causing all sorts of damage as described in TrUck's blog post on the subject. We have to be careful when doing this because we are 'invading' the nature reserve ourselves and are in real danger of tramping the plants and scaring the birds that live there. It was a rather lovely experience, methodically scanning the foliage looking for the slightly red tinged leaves of the balsam and listening to the bird song all around. Martyn Stenning, who was leading the group pointed out the song of several african migrants such as:
We have to be particularly careful not to disturb or damage the nests of these birds, which are found in vegetation close to the ground.

Balsam seedlings. Some of the tallest were already a foot high.
We took some time to peer into the clear areas of water next to the board walk.  I saw loads of wriggling tadpoles, about 3 sticklebacks, whirligig beetles, pond skaters and loads of caddis fly larvae. The latter are something I have often read about or seen on the TV but have never seen. They are strange little creatures that build an outer jacket out of bits of stick and debris. One, perhaps a caddis fly fashion victim, had decorated its brown coat with bright green disks of duckweed.

Further along the boardwalk we got a good view of Uckfield's primeval swamp.

Greater tussock sedges in Uckfield's primeval swamp.
Ancient plants like the tussock sedges and horse tail give the swamp a genuinely primeval feel. I almost expected to see a dinosaur lumber out from behind a clump of trees.  Returning to reality, we cleared the reptile basking rocks in case the resident grass snakes, slow worms and lizards wish to do a spot of sun bathing.  

There are more task days, running from 9am to 1pm each Saturday in June, so do come along. There is more info in my earlier post.

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