Thursday, 13 July 2017

Wetheral Woods Balsam Bash.

Owned by the National Trust since the late 1940s, Wetheral Woods (the most northerly of the Central and East Lakes properties) cover an area of around 9 hectares.

The woods are about three and a half miles east of Carlisle, on the west side of the River Eden. They form part of the ancient woodlands surrounding the river here.

A footpath runs through the woods along the banks of the River Eden...known to be one of the cleanest rivers in England. 
This river is one of the very few large rivers in England that flows northwards.

The woodlands have become increasingly inundated with invasive Himalayan balsam, the seeds of which are brought in by the River Eden from infested areas upstream.

Days have been set aside for rangers and volunteers to deal with this invasive plant. 

On the way to the worst of the infested sites, time was taken to have a quick look at the mysterious St.Constantine Cells, also known as Safe Guards.

These cave dwellings are early Medieval in origin and probably used by the nearby Priory of Wetheral as a refuge during border raids...hence the name Safe Guards.
However, legend would have it that St.Constantine stayed here when he was a hermit.

Three large square chambers were cut into the sandstone cliff face about forty
 feet above the River Eden with a protective masonry front wall into which
three windows and a fireplace were incorporated. 

...The fireplace...

...A spectacular view of the River Eden from one of the windows...

Originally access would have been by ladder from below.
 It would then have been drawn up.
Now access is from above down a flight of stone cut steps.

Back to business...slashing back the balsam before it has a chance to set seed.
It is a race against time!

A native fern, all but smothered by balsam.

Balsam in this instance is pulled up by hand to prevent harming the fern.

The fern now free of its "shroud" of balsam.

The balsam is snapped below the bottom node to prevent it from re-rooting itself.

In some areas a strimmer was used to good effect.

A large area of balsam cleared but much more work is needed elsewhere.
Very little can grow under such dense stands of Himalayan balsam.

Roger, foreground, and Martin. Two willing and able volunteers!

This stone on the riverbank is believed to have been used by prehistoric people
to sharpen their spears or axes.

A lot of balsam has been cleared, but it is an ongoing battle; more work on balsam bashing at Wetheral Woods will be written into the work programme for next season!

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