Escot Ecology – Himalayan Balsam in the Tale Valley

The Tale Valley Trust organises three Himalayan Balsam removal dates in the year, where volunteers join in to take out this invasive plant. This is an abridged version of Mish Kennaway’s report for 2021. If you’d like to volunteer, please make a note of next year’s dates at the bottom of the article and get in contact with Mish here. June 24th With just three volunteers available we were only able to cover from Talewater to the centre of Escot Park. Balsam was evident throughout but none yet in flower – everything has been late this year with the erratic weather patterns. Back in April I had joined Mervyn Newman for a section of his water vole survey, commissioned by Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT). There were signs of water voles, otters and beavers and a highlight of the morning was seeing  a brook lamprey. Brook lampreys are victims of the poor state of many of our rivers, and a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. In the Tale they are currently thriving. Another highlight was spotting a little pile of caddis fly larvae empty cases – Mervyn said this was evidence of the elusive water shrew which forages under water searching for larvae which they bring back to a secluded feeding station.  More indicators of a clean river, and the efforts of the Tale Valley Trust. July 22nd Five volunteers covered from Tuck Mill down to the confluence (approx 8 km) in five hours! Two longstanding volunteers had checked some off-stream blocks in the previous week. Balsam was found throughout the stretch but as individual plants or small clumps. The exception was a patch at Tuck Mill near the end of the Rydon weir bypass leat which took the five volunteers half an hour to clear.  The wildlife was abundant, and the water was crystal clear. We were bombarded with vibrant colours, from the rich red of willow roots to fluorescent green waterweed and the iridescent dark blue wings of damsel flies. And there were hundreds of damsel flies! We also encountered shoals of young fish, larger solitary brown trout, funnel spiders, willow warblers, dippers, and for both teams the experience of a belly flopping beaver! Though neither group actually saw the animal due to overhanging trees, boy was there a splash! One at Half Moon (Talewater), and the other at Escot, close to the boundary with Colesworthy Farm. Beaver slides and fresh chewings were common along the whole stretch. August 26th For the final outing, four new volunteers joined in, including a couple from Ottery and new representatives from WRT and DWT, both travelling up from South Devon, so there were 10 volunteers in total. The day was sunny and warm and river life was abundant, but had ‘calmed down’ from the frenetic activity in July. Having said that, one lucky person had a fly-past by a kingfisher at knee height. There were three Balsam hot spots, round the two ponds below Danes Mill, and in the south west corner of the water meadow upstream of Tuck Mill.  Otherwise plants were removed here and there along the entire stretch. Between us in just seven hours we covered around 7 miles (11.3Km) of the River Tale and Payhembury Brook, from Danes Mill to the confluence at Ottery St. Mary. We should be proud of our achievements, but there is no room for complacency – I very much hope to see you on the river again next year. Thank you on behalf of the Tale Valley Trust, and the river! Mish Kennaway 2022 dates for the diary
  • Thursday June 23
  • Thursday July 21st
  • Thursday August 26

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