Monthly ‘Muck In Days’, organised by the National Trust and the Eastern Moors Partnership, can attract up to 30 people to clear paths, cut down brambles, mend gates, build walls, or sometimes wrench out six foot high jungles of Himalayan balsam.
“It’s very fast growing, the leaves are big and they create a lot of shade which suppresses other plants, so there’s little diversity where Himalayan balsam grows,” said ranger Rachel Bennett. “You need to pull the whole thing up, snap them, put them in a pile and stamp on them to stop them regrowing.”
“I like finding all the Himalayan balsam and pulling them up,” said 10 year old Cara Hall. “And I like the squishing and popping sound they make when you stamp on them.”
“You see it taking over everywhere, so I thought this would be a good thing to do on a Sunday morning,” said Claire Smyth during a recent ‘balsam bashing’ event at Padley, when a small team cleared around 100 square metres of the invasive species first introduced to the UK from Asia in Victorian times. The UK’s milder climate and the plant’s habit of exploding its seed pods into streams or onto passing ramblers means it can easily swamp native woodlands, said Rachel Bennett.
“Clearing it makes it easier to use the paths, and makes room for native plants like bluebells and lesser celandine. And it’s an annual, so if you get rid of it before it seeds, it will stay got rid of.”
Heavy duty weeding, along with path clearing and other simple maintenance tasks, are being promoted to users of the local countryside as an opportunity to ‘put something back’.
“We’re saying if you come out here and enjoy being in the outdoors, why not also think about coming along to one of our muck in days to help keep Longshaw looking special for everyone?” said Ruth Tweedie, National Trust Sports Development Officer after the recent Trust 10K run at the estate.
The National Trust has well over 300 volunteers in the Peak District, and for people who don’t have the chance to weed or wall build on a Sunday, Ruth Tweedie has also launched a ‘text to donate’ option to give runners, climbers and other visitors the chance to make a donation towards the upkeep of the local countryside.
“I did the run a few times, and thought it’s not often you get a 10K for free, so I applied to be a volunteer,” said Joanne Gordon, who now spends a day every fortnight clearing paths, mending walls or welcoming visitors.
“People love the countryside around here, and I think more and more are picking up on the idea that it is a public place, but someone has to maintain it.”
More info: nationaltrust.org.uk/longshaw