Plants along the River Wey

The towpath along the River Wey is edged with a variety of plants supplying habitats for a wealth of wildlife.

As it is a man-made thoroughfare, the habitat structure is largely man-made too and our management programme encourages access for as many people as possible. This has an effect on the species that colonise the water's edge.

Historically, bankside grasses and flowering plants were kept short by the constant friction of the ropes of horse-drawn barges.

Nowadays, our lengthsmen add variety to the way the waterway looks by varying the height of vegetation along their length.

Pretty in pink?

Many visitors comment on the lovely pink flowers of the Himalayan balsam, and are shocked when we tell them we spend hours bashing it.

The problem is that it grows and spreads rapidly - each plant can produce roughly 800 seeds. It will out compete other native plants, which is why we want to keep it under control.

It does, however, have a pretty and non-invasive cousin, the orange balsam, which has an interesting history...

Orange is better

During the 19th century, the gunpowder mills at Chilworth were supplying gunpowder to one or other of the sides battling it out in the American Civil War.

Kegs of gunpowder were stored in the gunpowder store at Stonebridge on the River Wey before being sent on down the river to join the Thames at Weybridge and onto London.

Prior to the mid-1800s, orange balsam was not known in this country and rumour has it that seeds were brought back to Stonebridge in the empty barrels of gunpowder returned from North America where it is a native plant.

We don’t know if this is true or not, but there is certainly an abundance of this pretty orange plant along the River Wey.

Variety is good too

Over the 20 miles of river navigation, there is a good variety of plants with possibly the Triggs length containing the most numerous different varieties.

Species common to most lengths would include cuckoo flower, meadowsweet, hemp-agrimony and purple loosestrife.

Why not check out our waterside plant spotter  and see how many plants you can identify.

You can learn more about wildflowers from groups such as Plantlife.