In this episode I discuss with Pete Yeo from Future Flora why invasive plants may actually be good for the environment. Does the science stack up in favour of balsam bashing?
As Pete says “What reductionist science would call an opportunist or invader, a more holistic worldview might call a Gaian first responder. Put another way, one person’s weed is another’s wisdom.”
There is a transcript of this episode underneath the show notes for those with hearing difficulties.
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- Future Flora (Pete’s Facebook Page)
- Future Flora (Pete’s website)
- The New Wild by Fred Pearce
- Where Do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
- Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion
About Pete Yeo
Pete is, amongst other things, a naturalist and plantsman, having been fascinated by plants, especially their patterns and relationships, for over 35 years. Whilst he has studied horticulture and ecology formally, plants themselves have been his most meaningful teachers.
You can visit Pete’s page Future Flora on Facebook for an open conversation about the changing nature of Britain’s wild and cultivated flora, also exploring alternative narratives on the plant realm.
Welcome to another episode of the Plants and People Podcast. This is Robin Harford from EatWeeds.co.uk, and I’m here with Pete Yeo, who is the man behind Future Flora. And I first met Pete last year, so a year ago, because I heard that he was doing a talk in North Devon on invasive species, and an alternative model to them; “Are they a friend, or are they a foe, or are they somewhere in between?”
So, recently there was an article in the Telegraph really going on about, “We need to start balsam bashing, and getting rid of this bloody immigrant.” And so, I thought, “Well, Pete; he’s the man to talk to.” His talks are really, really inspiring and good, and he’s got the science, and he’s just got some interesting takes on the whole invasive species discussion. It’s not cut and dry. For years, I’ve always been promoting that, actually, invasive species are here to teach us something; that, if we can learn nature’s ways, being a very young species ourselves, maybe we can learn a thing or two. So, Pete, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much, Robin, and hello everyone.
So, just give a little bit of background. You’re a plantsman. How did invasives come into your kind of thinking and why invasives? What grabs them for you?
Well, I won’t give you the whole story, but the last three or four years, I’ve been really kind of indulging my interest and passion for plants and the relationships between plants. And it was some years ago now before, that I kind of realised that, as I was getting to know plants better from a kind of horticultural garden point of view, it was quite clear that some of the plants that we grow in our gardens are actively naturalising across our British landscape. And I was kind of really struck by how that might play out, and with environmental kind of sensibilities as well. I was obviously aware of climate change, and the potential impacts on our flora; of that. Yeah, just started to kind of speculate about how things might pan out, and generally kind of look at immigrant plants; and there’s a whole ‘nother conversation we could have about how we project onto immigrant plants as we do with people.
But, when you look at immigrant plants, the kind of stand-out group are the invasive plants. And, the more I kind of looked at them, the more I kind of stumbled upon references to an alternative way of looking at invasive plants, and that they weren’t always bad. And, in fact, even when they were held to be bad, that the evidence for that didn’t really stack up. And certain books, as is often the way, came in front of me, and I kind of hungrily read them, and started to kind of have a very different perception of invasive plants, and perhaps of invasive species more generally. And it’s that that I’ve been starting to look at more closely the last few years. And have quite a different perspective than many people, and particularly classic conservationists, for example. Yeah.
Yeah. Okay. So, the particular immigrant that I wanted to … The reason I called you up and said, “Look, come on, chum. Let’s get you down on record.” Is really to discuss Himalayan balsam. I know, obviously, there’s Japanese knotweed, there’s rhododendrons, tonnes of other so-called invasive species. But, it’s Himalayan balsam bashing season at the moment.
So, what’s your take on the usual argument that Himalayan balsam, it comes in, it crowds out our native species, it’s a thug, it just disrupts our waterways, and is unsightly, stinks, and we should be doing everything in our power to be basically committing genocide against it? Not to be too emotional.
Of course not. I mean, obviously, I’m familiar with the plant and where it grows, how it grows. It’s a very pretty plant, generally. I mean, that’s why I think it was introduced to this country in the first place. I mean, I’ve got my own views on the plant and its behaviour. But, there’s a couple of books in particular that I’ve been quite influenced by. They’ve resonated very strongly with me, what they’ve had to say about Himalayan balsam. One is “Where Do Camels Belong?” by British author Ken Thompson, and “The New Wild” by Fred Pearce, another British author.
Yeah. Fantastic books.
Both wonderful books openly questioning and challenging the standard view on invasive species, both flora and fauna. And both of them clearly point out that much of the evidence that should be there to support the impacts of Himalayan balsam on biodiversity … Because it’s an annual, it dies away at the end of the growing season, and then leaves the soil bare, which is then open to winter rains, and the high river volumes for erosion, and things like that, and the river banks get eroded. The negative effects on pollinators, and so forth. A lot of the research just doesn’t stack up.
And, even if you go on to the CABI.org, which is a centre … If I can remember it properly. A Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International. Basically, it’s a kind of national body, in this country, to look into … Well, a big part of what they do is looking at invasive species and from an anti-point of view. But, even on their website, when you look at their data sheet on Himalayan balsam, they’re quite honest in saying that a lot of these … I can’t think of the word. Accusations aimed at Himalayan balsam, even they say the science is very, very fuzzy. There’s not really any good evidence to support the biodiversity impacts, and so on. And we can kind of drill that into it.
Just from my own point of view, the accusation in terms of once the annual plant has died back at the end of the growing season, it’s leaving the riverbanks open to winter erosion from high river volumes because the plant has smothered out everything else, and there’s nothing there stabilising the bank. That just doesn’t feel right, to me.
You know, I could be wrong. I mean, I haven’t actually gone out into the field on my hands and knees and really kind of explored this. But, it just doesn’t feel right. I mean, you taken some annual bedding that you’ve had in pots or containers the following spring, after they died back the autumn before; my experience is that those clods of soil are very, very firm, and the root balls are still very much intact, even though the actual plant has died.
And, of course, there’s plenty of other perennial species that are growing along with balsam, as Thompson and Pearce point out. The native species that Himalayan balsam is supposed to be out-competing, or competing with, are common ruderal species … So, that’s species that grow in disturbed, in this instance, typically moist habitats like stinging nettle, bindweed, docks, cleavers, and the like. They’re quite bold plants in their own right, but they can kind of cope with that competition, to an extent. So, it’s not as if they’ve been completely rubbed out of the area; they’ll still be there.
And there’s evidence to suggest, as Ken Thompson lists, that, whilst Himalayan balsam is competing, if you can accept that perception of how plants interrelate with each other; they’re competing with common ruderal species, natives, but actively suppress other non-natives. So, when you remove Himalayan balsam where it’s invaded, a lot of other non-natives come in, and it’s just hamster wheel time, as it so often is in these scenarios.
Well, let’s say who they are. The conservationists. They’re the old guard, archaic, dinosaur conservationists who, unfortunately, control the whole of this bloody country and all the regulations. Now, I know you’re far more gentle than I am there. But, you know, it’s time to call them on it, because they haven’t got the science. Whereas, if you look at Pearce and the other chap, they have the science. It’s listed there. And I’d just like to point out that Fred Pearce was massively was massively anti-invasives, until the data started questioning his model. Yeah? And now he has come out with his new book, “The New World”, on the side of invasives.
So, for those conservationists who are twitching and wetting their knickers at this point, I really do strongly suggest that you go and check out his book, and check out the science, and stop giving immigrants, as we do with human immigrants, a bad rap, just because they are other, and you personally don’t understand them.
Yeah. I commend everyone to read “The New Wild”, it’s a wonderful book, and there is plenty of evidence that the science in favour of the anti position doesn’t hold water very much, if at all, and there’s evidence to suggest the opposite … In terms of the negative pollinator effect with Himalayan balsam, there is evidence to suggest the opposite, that there is what they call an adjacent benefit, so that other native riparian riverside species that are flowering at the same time receive more visits rather than less when they’re kind of in the same area as Himalayan balsam, Himalayan being super popular with honeybees and other pollinator insects, which is a common trait of many … Well, invasive plants generally, they tend to have very broad bandwidth appeal to pollinators. Which is not really a surprise, when you consider the kind of circumstances they tend to be arriving in where there’s vegetation has been, to varying extents, removed from an area. So, the local pollinators and other insects have a lot less to forage from.
And who’s been doing that removing?
Quite often, good old human beings.
Of course. And, as Thompson says, so often we kill the messenger. We get the plants, an or animals, whether you call them invasive or not, or pioneer opportunist species, that kind of come in and thrive, or perhaps are a response to disturbance. You know, you get the plants and animals that we deserve, the same way as we get the governments we deserve, God bless them. And, yeah. It seems to be a lot of evidence support this alternative, much more kind of positive, outlook on invasives. I mean, it’s quite a broad topic.
The way I am now starting to look at invasive plants is to try and get a much bigger picture, and I’ll bring this back to Himalayan balsam in a second. The bigger picture view of what they might be doing, what their ecological role might be. And I’ve been very influenced by an American author called Stephen Buhner, who’s written about plant intelligence, generally, and invasive plants; particularly Japanese knotweed, which he works with over in America as a herbalist, amongst other things. But, he makes the point that every living being, every living thing that’s expressed into physical form, has an ecological function.
The challenge to anyone who wants to have a kind of say in the matter is to find out what that function is. And there’s another American author and permaculturist called Tao Orion, who’s written another wonderful book called “Beyond the War on Invasive Species”, and she takes that further. It’s like, yeah, you need to find out what that plant is doing. It will have a role in the ecosystem, in the habitat. What is it? Take the time, and even if you come around to the fact that you still don’t want it, you want to kind of stand behind cosmic will expressed through you versus cosmic will expressed through the larger system, and you still want to go head-to-head with that; then, try to do it in a way that’s following the grain of nature rather than butting against it with chemicals, et cetera.
So, back to balsam … And I’m kind of skipping around a little bit. But, there’s a project in Germany. A place called Weisbaden, which … And as many people will know, many of the parts of Himalayan balsam are edible; the young shoots, the seed pods, the flowers.
Possibly. Yeah, okay.
As I understand it.
Okay. So, in respective, there’s edible parts of the plants, but there’s this project that are making food products-from the plant in order to finance the eradication of the plant.
Peter Becker, yeah.
Yeah. Which, is kind of amusing, really. And, interestingly, the Himalayan balsam … And I was kind of surprised to find this out, but it’s a Bach flower remedy, but also one of the five ingredients of the Bach’s Rescue Remedy. And its key word associated with it is “impatience”. Which, you can feel the impatience of a lot of people, and conservationists, particularly, with the plant. And so, you kind of wonder what might be going on at a deeper level.
But, just going back to how I look at invasives now, and looking at the ecological function … Though, I take it a little bit further, and imagine, if you like, that the planet, Mother Earth, Gaia, however you want to describe it, has the equivalent of green skin. So, in the same way that when we graze, cut, or otherwise damage our skin, there is an immune response that is engaged to heal that. And, the more I consider, it seems quite plausible that invasive plants are that immune response of that kind of macro green skin vegetal system. That are drawn in to an area, depending on the degree of disturbance, and the more powerful kind of invasive plants tend to correspond with the greater waste that an area’s suffered.
I think Pearce mentions that, doesn’t he?
He mentions about how they tend to hang out where humans have basically messed up their local ecosystem and land base.
And so, the whole concept of balsam bashing, and pointing the finger at the invasive, forgetting that there’s three fingers pointing back at ourselves; it’s not really dealing with the causes. For me, I mean, that thing where Buhner says, “Everything has an ecological function,” for years, I’ve taught that plants have … If we’re patient enough, and get out of our human arrogance thinking we know it all, and actually observe, like the ancient Taoists did 3,000 years ago in China, there are … Nature tells us something. Nature is always giving us guidance, that’s why she is seen as a teacher. And that the invaders, so called, are, like you say, like Pearce says, like loads of other people are beginning to come to a realisation.
We’ve got to be looking at our habitat loss. We’ve got to be looking at our industrial agricultural practises. You know, if you don’t want the Himalayan balsam here, or the Japanese knotweed here, ask yourself, “What is the human doing that is causing this,” like you say, “This healing to take place?” Because, finally, in the last two years there’s all these books with the science referenced in the back of them, pointing to the fact that, actually, the human is the cause of this. And we are the problem. They’re not the problem. They’re trying to fix the problem.
But, one of the reasons I really was inspired, and loved your talk last year was … Because I’ve always had this thing like these invasives, whether it’s a plant, or it’s something like Muntjac; they’re second guessing climate change. And one of the things that you brought out last year was that, a lot of these so called invasive species come from climates that the climate of the British Isles is expected to be similar within the next 20 years. Is that correct?
In certain instances, yes. I mean, some of the invasive species that are actively naturalising in the landscape now, holm oak, for example, the evergreen oak; they’re kind of, perhaps, placing our wooded landscape, putting it in a more resilient stance. But, I think with Himalayan balsam, I haven’t noted with that one … I think it’s the case that the … And I can’t remember the timings of introduction off the top of my head. But, I think it’s probably the case that the climate here was already quite conducive.
It was 1830’s I think it came in. It was brought in.
And, what you’d have to kind of look at then, is when was it first recorded in the wild? And, amazingly, they have this information for many of these plants. And there are these standard lag periods between introduction and a plant, if it’s going to kind of become naturalised, or even so called invasive; there were these lag periods. It’s 170 years for trees, about 130 years for shrubs, and decades or less with herbaceous plants or annuals like Himalayan balsam. So, what you need to look at is, “Okay. When was it first introduced? When was it first recorded in the wild?” If it was just a period of decades, then it could be that the climate was already conducive.
If, like bay laurel, for example, which was introduced, perhaps, by the Romans … And then, you add on 130, 150 years. And then, okay, when was it first recorded wild? 1924.
Oh, right. Wow.
Way beyond the lag period.
Now, to my mind, my inexperienced, non-scientific mind, maybe that’s a good thing. That strongly suggests that climate change is at play. The climate is sufficiently warm and compatible with what bay laurel is used to, particularly in terms of seed regeneration, that it’s like, “This is okay for me now. I’m liking this,” because of the warming that’s come since the Industrial Revolution.
Because of that huge period between introduction and running wild. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember the kind of details for Himalayan balsam, but what we do know … And this is kind of cutting back to what its ecological function might be … Is that it’s one of these plants, like ivy and like cherry laurel … Ivy is regarded as a native … Which, that language has become increasingly uncomfortable for me.
Kind of meaningless. And cherry laurel is an introduced, and regarded as an invasive. But, they all, Himalayan balsam as well, are known to thrive on high levels of CO2. I’m guessing we’re likely to see more of those kinds of plant, or those kinds of plants proliferating, become more successful, because there’s more CO2 in the air.
Now, from a holistic macro system point of view, is that response kind of inevitable? Is it a part of the rebalancing process that would need to be underway? That Gaia will try and kind of redress the imbalance that we’ve wrought? But, what else might Himalayan balsam be doing? We know it thrives on high nutrient load. It seems to have a very high mineral content, which suggests it could be one of these plants. And this is where more research needs to be done with a neutral mindset at least, rather than kind of set up to look for problems, like if you’re funded by a body that wants to kind of prove that, perhaps.
But, could it be that Himalayan balsam is the kind of plant that acts as a moderator, kind of a plant sink for surplus carbon in the atmosphere, or surplus minerals, perhaps nitrogen in the soil. And, of course, where you see it is in river systems, alongside rivers. And, more often than not, there’s going to be relatively intensive agriculture, perhaps with surplus nitrogen runoff. Is it playing some kind of role in that whole game?
Now, from a holistic point of view, you’d think, “Okay. Well, let’s assume it is. We’d need those minerals, that surplus of whatever it is to either be locked down as carbon, or as minerals, to be put back on the land, and maybe upstream again, if the system’s purpose is to kind of hold the vitality of the soil. So, how might that work?” And this is all pure speculation.
Sure. Of course. But, the questions need asking.
And might be completely baloney, but we can be honest about that.
But, given that livestock tend to love eating Himalayan balsam, that represents a possible return path for those minerals. Because, they’re going to take it further up field, perhaps further up the valley, and drop it back on the fields, or whatever. I don’t know. But, it’s an interesting thing. And is anyone looking at that? I don’t know.
Right. Yeah. Well, if anyone’s listening to this who is looking at exactly that … I mean, Pete is completely up front. This is purely speculation. I say all my courses, I don’t do woo-woo. But, I have to say, at this point, the questions that I think are fascinating, that there possibly is some semblance of a clearer perception of how invasives are functioning within our ecosystems that currently we’re not entertaining.
So, I really like the idea that … I spoke to a chap who use to cull Muntjac, and deer in general for the lords and ladies in Scotland. And I asked him, I said, “Muntjac is an invasive species,” and, “What’s your take? You’re someone very close to the land, you’re embedded with the landscape, you’re observing and paying attention to the shifts and moves of this progression and impact that climate change is having. What do you say?” And he came and said, “Second guessing climate change.” I mean, it was just straight off his head. And I do think that when you were talking that … And I’ve heard it from two other people, so this is three people completely unconnected all coming to a similar consensus about how the ecosystem is shifting.
Old guard conservationists are fortress conservationists. Humans should be removed from the landscape, blah, blah, blah. We see this all over the world, and it’s causing chaos. What the balsam bashing community don’t seem to be getting is that we are moving, and climate change is happening, whether you like it or not. The evidence is absolutely there. And people close to that … And especially plant people see it happening in development through the years. And it’s a question of, “When are you going to wake up and realise that the Earth, Gaia, is trying to tell the dumb ass humans something and we need to be paying attention?”
I mean, whilst I’ve studied horticulture and ecology formally, I’ve kind of … Most of what I’ve learned of value has been from plants themselves. As you do, and other people we know … Just getting out and direct experiential activity with the plants, and within context. Context is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. And part of context is that it’s always changing.
And back to the ideas that are still prevalent within the conservation fields of … There’s equivalent with the political landscape at the moment wanting to make America or Britain great again, getting back to the good old days.
You can sympathise with that to an extent because of so many things that are happening in the world, but, of course, you’ve got to keep moving forward. I mean, climate change, no matter how effective we might be at reducing our carbon output in the next five, 10, 15 years, or whatever; there’s an awful lot of carbon coming through the system yet. So, we’re kind of locked in to a degree of climate change. Slowly, more and more people are starting to kind of realise that they’re having to … We’re going to have to embrace at least some of the introduced plants that are actively naturalising, some say invasively so, in this country because … And Fred Pearce points this out very effectively. We might be really, really glad of those plants. Particularly, if we get accelerated climate change to the extent that some of our key, anchor native species literally can’t keep up.
For years now, I’ve been saying we’re a nation of gardeners, great. I mean, maybe that in itself … We’ve got one of the most smallest native floras in the world, and yet, one of the largest cultivated floras in the world, with the Edwardians, Victorians, and Georgians bringing in plants from all over the world, from our empire. And we’ve grown them in our gardens. Many have leapt the fence. Although, Williamson’s law … Which you may know about, and some of your listeners may know about. For every 100 plants that are introduced, 10% go on to naturalise in our landscape. 10% of those become invasive. You’re talking about 1% that become invasive. And, if you listen to someone like Ken Thompson, he’ll say there’s evidence suggesting that, even with those species, between a period of 50 to 200 years … Which, bear in mind, is beyond the typical human timeframe, which is why we’re missing it.
Even those species blend into the background. I mean, its native range … Himalayan balsam is not invasive. Japanese knotweed is a pioneer on lava. It’s one of the first plants, if not the first plant, that can get onto volcanic lava and start the process of turning it into soil and hastening the arrival of forest.
So, rather than the old kind of way of looking at ecological succession as kind of the initial pioneer plants coming in and then, progressively, they’re out-competed by wave after wave of more suited, fit plants, until you’ve got forest or woodland back in that location; the pioneer plants, like knotweed and Himalayan balsam, are kind of preparing the way for those aspects of themself as one macro vegetal system that can come, arrive, and fully manifest all that vegetation can be in that location. And that’s not to kind of discount humans. We know humans are having … They’re very much a part of nature, and we can work with nature rather than against it, but we have to be cognizant of those larger processes that are happening. Pristine wilderness, along with many of these terms like “native” and “invasive”, they’re becoming kind of mythical, and myths that perhaps aren’t serving us anymore.
We were talking just earlier, weren’t we, about “re-wilding”, the word “re-wilding”, and that I’ve always felt quite uncomfortable with it. I mean, I understand that people who talk about it, where they’re coming from, but re-wilding is almost this romantic vision of going backwards to this time of pristine environments; of how it should be, without humans. Well, the term “future wilding” would be far more appropriate, for me, because that is taking in all these models that we’ve been discussing.
Yeah. You’re making me feel good about the use of “future flora” for my Facebook page now, bless you. But, no. I mean, I was quite excited by this idea of re-wilding. I mean, on so many levels, it feels like a really good idea. But, I happened to drop an organisation who are involved with this … A new organisation, I believe. They’ll remain nameless for the sake of this interview.
To be nice about it. But, I was quite shocked, actually, by the response I had. I kind of sent them a wee note saying, “Just out of interest, what’s your position re: so called invasive species? Are you accounting for the use of some of the naturalised, and perhaps in certain instances, invasive species within your kind of re-wilding programme; particularly with a future proofing perspective, with climate change and all the rest of it.” And they kind of knocked that one back to me.
That was really surprising, actually.
They said, “We’re a conservation organisation, and,” ..
No, you’re not.
And they really are, by the sound of it. In the sense of, they’re conserving what there is.
Wilderness as museum.
Yeah. And it’s like, you don’t need to consider that for very long to see the flaws. To my mind.
Let alone what my heart feels about it. But, it doesn’t make sense. We’ve got a host now of introduced species that are out about in the landscape. And I was just reading, actually, there’s a new report out by the RHS, the Royal Horticultural Society, looking at the implications of climate change on horticulture, gardening, and gardeners. And it’s a very interesting read, love the science on climates in there. And they’re quite even-handed. I mean, there’s a lot of standard jargon and narrative around invasives being bad and negative, and invasive species, flora and fauna, held to be one of the key threats with climate change … As is becoming obvious in this interview, neither of us necessarily buy into that narrative.
But, they were talking about holm oak, for example, Quercus ilex, which we mentioned a bit earlier. And they were actually acknowledging that that actually could be a beneficial species, in terms of our flora in this country, as a new … I mean, if you look at the bigger picture, it’s just a different form of oak, ultimately. I mean, we call things, “This is a species of oak. This is another species of oak. This is a species of thistle. This is another species of thistle,” whatever it may be. If you zoom out, it’s just one continuous flow of DNA.
So, the holm oak … Even the turkey oak as well, which is a deciduous oak, but from more southernly regions that is also actively naturalising in this country. They’re more suitable, resilient forms of oak for the climate that is coming to our landscape soon.
In geological timeframe. And it just seems sensible to kind of go with that. And, interestingly, there was an article in a little kind of freebie-type newspaper put out by Common Ground and the Woodland Trust recently, and there was an article in there, I think it was two ecologists and an environmental campaigner, speaking up for the likes of sycamore and holm oak, turkey oak, horse chestnut, and trees like that, and saying, “We should accommodate these species more in our planting, in our tree planting across the landscape. We need to give them a chance, because they’re going to serve us well.”
So, slowly people are starting to think ahead. And the Forestry Commission have been talking about this for some time as well. It’s official policy that people who are planting woodlands, whatever, they need to plant between provenance of particular species, between two and five degrees south … Two degrees is Brittany, five degrees is kind of over the Pyrenees area. So, that’s growing seed from native species, let’s say. But, seed that’s come from a field maple, or an oak, or whatever from the south of France, because it will be that little bit more suited to the warmer temperatures that are coming our way. And, again, that makes sense.
But, even the Forestry Commission have been making comments in the direction of, “We need to be a little bit more creative, and imaginative, and use a larger palette of tree species in our woodlands in this country.” And that’s just woodlands. So, there’s many angles we could take that conversation, I know.
There is. I mean, the whole invasive species discussion slash debate is obviously going to be hotting up as climate change develops; definitely a pun intended there. And we just have to watch this space, and see what science is coming out, and just hope that conservation organisations actually start putting the evidence on the table. Because, at the moment, my feelings about many of them is that it’s a bit like the old witch trials, the Inquisition. “We’re going to burn someone on a feeling,” you know? “Well, where’s the evidence they’re a witch?” “No, no, no. I just know they are.” And I think it’s time that we really get the evidence out and down, however that can happen. Because we all know that scientific research has vested interest that pay for it to push certain agendas. But, there are these kind of outsiders and iconoclasts who are putting their neck on the line; like Fred Pearce. Complete about turn. Which, fair play to the man, that’s pretty ballsy when you’ve got a reputation that is potentially going to be wrecked by doing so.
So, this is what Richard Mabey had to say about Himalayan, or as he calls it, “Indian” balsam back in 2011. He says, “I’d like to raise a personal cautionary note about the balsam bashing group’s activities. We very often forget that Indian balsam grows best on bare soil, where other plants aren’t growing at all. I’ve been watching the plant for most of my life, certainly the best part of 40 years, and I can’t say I have ever seen an instance where it has displaced native vegetation. And I wish, because it would greatly strengthen their case, if balsam bashers had some hard science about what happens to a patch of native riverside vegetation when Himalayan balsam moves in.
As for the future, I think we have to accept that Himalayan balsam is here to stay. The more that machinery churns out the area around ditches, the more the muddy corners of fields are disturbed. The more we dump the dredgings from rivers onto riverside banks, the more we actually create the open, muddy situations that the fruits of Himalayan balsam just adore. And, maybe, we should also remember that cautionary note from poet Anne Stevenson, “Plant extinctions are happening all over the globe as a result of climate change, pollution, habitat loss.” I think we really need to think seriously before we choose to eliminate newcomers to the ecosystems of any country, however aggressive and invasive they might be. In 50 years time, they might be just what we need.”
So, thank you, Pete, for the discussion.
Yeah. It’s just that, I mean, I fully concur with what Richard was saying there. In my experience, speaking with ordinary people when I do my walks, and talks, and presentations; when they hear what I have to say, this information around a completely alternative narrative on immigrant, invasive, whatever descriptor you want to use, plants, the overwhelming response is a kind of like, “Yeah, no. That actually kind of makes sense.” And that’s really interesting. The very least why I do what I do, is to kind of just balance up the debate.
Because it’s been imbalanced for so long.
And the imbalanced side, the more I look at it, just does not stack up. It doesn’t make sense. And so, I feel we need to kind of just openly, honestly look at this other side. Like you say, it may be that there is good, hard evidence for some of these species, perhaps. Again, that may be only a short-term effect.
But, let’s have an open, full debate on this. And I think we’ll all be the richer for that.
Thank you very much.