Running free in the Peak without the blight of Himalayan balsam

Heavy duty weeding or cross-country running? Not everyone's choice as a Sunday morning leisure activity, perhaps, but plenty of Sheffield's outdoor citizens like nothing better.

Thursday, 25th August 2016, 07:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th August 2016, 16:49 pm
National Trust volunteer balsam bashing near Padley Woods: Claire Sutherland gathering up balsam stems

“It’s lovely scenery, very informal and a nice atmosphere,” said a relaxed 62-year-old Drew Kilcoyne after running up and down the hills and woods of Padley Gorge on the monthly Trust 10k run from Longshaw.

“I like finding all the Himalayan balsam and pulling them up,” said 10-year-old weeder Cara Hall. “And I like the squishing and popping sound they make when you stamp on them.”

The 10K at Longshaw runs into its second year this Sunday, with around 100 athletes of all ages expected to pound the trails around the estate in the free, timed run organised by the National Trust.

“It’s a great opportunity for people who’ve run on city streets or tried the Park Runs to do some trail running in the beautiful Peak District countryside,” said Ruth Tweedie, sports development officer.

“But we’re also 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?”

‘Muck In Days’, organised by the trust and the Eastern Moors Partnership, take place every month and usually 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 regrowing.”

Around her, a team of volunteers were employing various style of freestyle taekwondo to defeat the balsam in the Padley woodland.

“You see it taking over everywhere, so I thought this would be a good thing to do on a Sunday morning,” said balsam basher Claire Smyth.

“I like trying to help nature, and this will give other flowers a chance to grow,” said Cara Hall.

The team cleared around 100 square metres of the invasive species first introduced to the UK from Asia in Victorian times.

Our milder climate and the plant’s habit of exploding its seed pods into streams or on to passing ramblers means it can easily swamp native woodlands, said Rachel.

“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.”

After paying little attention to the work of path-clearers and gate-fixers as he sped round the trails of Longshaw, first man back Kevin Mahon had chance to reflect after crossing the finish line.

“It’s a fantastic course, and it definitely beats running in the city. But it wouldn’t be possible without the work the staff and volunteers here do.”

The trust has well over 300 volunteers in the Peak District, and for runners 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 athletes and other visitors the chance to make a donation towards the upkeep of the local countryside. Volunteer Joanne Gordon was handing out wildlife packs and activity guides to the spectating children and their grandparents, as family runners stocked up on cake.

“I did the run here a few times, and thought it’s not often you get a 10K for free, so I applied to be a volunteer and put something back,” said Joanne, 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.”

Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/longshaw for details.