Our teams headed out during the summer to manage Balsam along the River Tale.
24 June – Three volunteers covered an area from Tuck Mill to Cadhay Bridge.
Disappointingly, the stretch through Escot Park had proliferated, although less than 10 plants overall were in flower.
Looking back on last year’s session, we found many plants already seeding and popping as we pulled them up, while three of the others covered the church area.
Red admiral caterpillars were in healthy abundance feeding on nettles. We also saw a kingfisher, two dippers and a tree creeper, and found a kingfisher egg in the river.
There was notable beaver and otter activity throughout the stretch.
21 July – Two days after the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, at 40.3C, (Coningsby, Lincolnshire), the Tale Valley had dropped back to around 20C.
Five seasoned river walkers were on hand, including two from the Westcountry Rivers Trust.
A team started in Escot Park with two hours of tree coppicing on the riverbank, with the aid of a tractor – predominantly alder and willow.
That complete, they headed downstream to Cadhay Bridge. Yog and Wendy were dropped at Danes Mill and immediately (briefly) saw a beaver as it slapped its tail on the water and disappeared.
The pond on the edge of the river a few hundred metres downstream was balsam infested and took a while for the two of them to clear, however, the river corridor itself was surprisingly clear between Danes and Tuck Mills, with long stretches completely balsam free.
Between Tuck Mill and Talewater wasn’t too bad either, enabling three people to cover from Danes to Talewater in four hours. 50% of the plants we pulled were in flower but none were yet holding viable seed.
The water level was very low – predictable due to the lack of rain for many weeks.
But the river Tale has many natural pools, and now of course several summer beaver dams holding back the flow and providing refuge for brown trout and smaller fish species, and a larder for the healthy population of otters and kingfishers.
Dippers were finding easy pickings of insect larvae under pebbles in the shallower stretches.
Damsel flies and meadow brown butterflies were abundant. Dragonflies, and other butterflies such as gate keeper, holly blue, clouded yellow, small & large whites, comma, red admiral, peacock and ringlet were all present but in disappointingly low numbers.
Paradoxically, the derelict buildings and industrial wasteland at Talewater are a haven for insect life, and indeed balsam, growing in profusion and undisturbed.
The Escot stretch offered up a pair of iridescent (water) mint leaf beetles: Chrysolina herbacea.
25 Aug – England has had its joint hottest summer in a series which runs from 1884, according to the Met Office. Four of the top five have occurred since 2003.
The water levels in the Tale have held up remarkably well. Whether this has anything to do with the 13+ beaver dams we counted downstream of Danes Mill is open to debate.
The river has plenty of deep pools along its length where brown trout up to 14 inches have been seen. Signs of otters remain plentiful and at least two kingfishers were seen today.
Having struggled with low numbers of volunteers in the previous two months, this time we were 20!
Simpkins Edwards Chartered Accountants once again came to our aid with 11 very keen and able helpers.
Devon Wildlife Trust too were in force with three (nearly four, but for a last-minute beaver press call!).
Six dedicated local residents completed the team.
Between us we were able to complete the seven mile stretch in 4.5 hours and do some overhanging obstruction clearance between Escot and Cadhay. In addition, two sensitive sections of water meadow ditch were cleared of silt and vegetation by hand. A very productive day.
In general, the further downstream we came the more balsam there was, although the Payhembury brook and the pond downstream of Danes Mill were heavily infested.
Conversely, from that pond down to Tuck Mill (about a mile), there were barely 25 plants. Frequency was steady from Tuck Mill to the confluence – enough to keep volunteers on their toes.
A huge thank you to all those involved this year, and to our Parish Council sponsors, and Mo and Andy Mills who have hung up their waders for the last time, after more than 10 years volunteering in the Tale. A real community effort.