Clacton blank Banksy and parody themselves in the process


It is a great story. Banksy paints this image of plucky British (English) pigeons protesting against an exotic looking migratory bird – a swallow perhaps. Are the pigeons feral?

Tendring Council, in the Clacton constituency which will be voting in the first UKIP MP in a week’s time, receive a complaint from the public that there was offensive graffiti on the town’s boathouse. Was it a UKIP voter unhappy at the metaphor of UKIP Pigeons  – or was it a complaint from the English Indigenous Bird Defence League?

Not realising they had a real life Banksy which would be “worth a lot of money”, they sent in an operative to remove it. It’s been painted over, destroyed. Perhaps Banksy is pleased. The art existed, arguably still exists, even though it has been destroyed.

Once the council realised they have just lost their town huge Banksy-kudos, not to mention half a million pounds, then invited Banksy back, but only on condition he paints something “appropriate”.

Nigel Brown, Tendring’s Comms manager said “We would obviously welcome an appropriate Banksy original on any of our seafronts and would be delighted if he returned in the future.” Do Comms managers have their sense of satire removed before being allowed into job? What would an appropriate Banksy look like and wouldn’t that destroy the whole idea of Banksy.

There are so many layers of irony running through this story that it would be shame to dissect them. But the combination of mindless political correctness, satirical political art, the obsession with commodifying everything and the febrile political debate around national identity, is a very heady one.

Parallels are sometimes drawn between conservationists’ attitudes towards alien invasive species, and xenophobic attitudes towards foreign people. Gardeners Question Time was recently criticised for being a hot bed of repressed nationalism, even fascism.

I think if Banksy had drawn that parallel, ie put a Ring-neck Parakeet on the wire, for example, instead of a swallow, that might have made a lot of people, including conservationists, feel rather uncomfortable.



I went for walk the other day along the Frome Valley, on the edge of Dorchester. There are number of streams and this one had masses of Himalayan balsam along the bank. It often gets pulled up as an invasive alien, even though there is no evidence that it has a deleterious effect on native wildlife. This stand had survived and was still flowering prodigiously, with the fantastic weather we have had. It was absolutely covered in bumble and honey bees.


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in alien invasive species, UKIP and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Clacton blank Banksy and parody themselves in the process

  1. habitataid says:

    Hi Miles – interested to read your comments on HB – I thought it was a given it was a nuisance, hence recent blog… If it ain’t why is there still so much hoo ha about it from experts who should know better?!

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Nick – it’s a good question. I think people see it proliferate along rivers and because it is an alien, assume it must be bad for biodiversity. I was at a talk this morning and someone said it created additional erosion problems. I was curious as to what this meant and found a paper in the Journal of Soil Sediments (Dec 2013) where researchers had found that due to its rapid winter die-back, it led to the release of high nutrient sediment into rivers, reducing water quality. HOwever, this research was carried out in one river in NW Switzerland, and we should be cautious before automatically extrapolating to English (or British) rivers. Also, HB is only responding to the ready availability of nutrient-loaded soil coming off agricultural land; and I wonder whether alternative vegetation or land management practices here would really make that big a difference in terms of nutrient and sediment transport into rivers.

  2. Mark Fisher says:

    I can’t stand the smell of HB flowers, which is enough cause for me to clear it from my local ancient woodlands. But there are aesthetic reasons as well, the dominance it has once it takes hold in a woodland, and how it obscures the rest of the ground flora, especially wood sorrel in one woodland I clear. I was also concerned in another woodland that it was smothering yellow archangel. I’d much rather see the climbing corydalis in my woodlands, one of only three native woodland annuals, than HB, and which suffers because of it.

    Perhaps the reason why there isn’t greater concern about HB in woodland, and the lack of studies, is that it probably has greater effects on light demanding species, as you would expect from its sheer physical presence. Hulme and Bremner (2006) found that the removal of HB in riparian areas increased plant diversity and species richness, and when HB forms monocultures, it may reduce species richness by up to 25%. Using clearance trials, Maule et al. (2000) showed that in the UK, HB could successfully compete with native plants, including tree seedlings with the potential to inhibit the regeneration cycle of woodlands. But there are also effects on ground-dwelling invertebrate communities – Tanner et al (2013) found that herbivores, detritivores, and predators were all significantly reduced, which could lead to a fragmented, destabilised ecosystem, and negative impacts on higher trophic levels and ecosystem functioning.

    Hulme, PE and Bremner ET (2006) Assessing the impact of Impatiens glandulifera on riparian habitats: partitioning diversity components following species removal. Journal of Applied Ecology 200643, 43–50
    Maule, H., Andrews, M., Watson, C. & Cherrill, A.J. (2000) Distribution, biomass and effect on native species of Impatiens glandulifera in a deciduous woodland in northeast England. Aspects of Applied Biology, 58, 31–38
    Tanner RA, Varia S, Eschen R, Wood S, Murphy ST, & Gange, AC (2013) Impacts of an invasive non-native annual weed, Impatiens glandulifera, on above- and below-ground invertebrate communities in the United Kingdom. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67271

  3. Miles King says:

    Thanks Mark. They Biol Cons paper I cited found there was no evidence of a deleterious effect on native riparian vegetation in their plots.

    Your inverts paper showed that there was a big difference in the way that below and above ground inverts responded to balsam and that below ground group actually increased with balsam cover.
    Also, the data were only collected from one site, so it would be unwise to extrapolate this to all sites. The research did not indicate whether any of the inverts affected were anything other than common species, so while balsam might reduce invertebrate herbivore abundance at a small patch scale, this is unlikely to be a conservation issue. Compared to the many other factors causing invertebrate populations to decline, Balsam isn’t really going to figure on the radar is it?

    I was unable to look at your woodlands ref – could you email me a copy if you have one? I agree that in woods it can become dominant and crowd out other ground flora species; but perhaps that is a function of the way woods are or are not managed these days. I had heard that pigs or wild boar were effective at keeping it from becoming dominant and I see some experiments are happening to test this eg

    We could trade references but I think it’s fair to say that the supposed devastating effect of Himalayan balsam on British wildlife is debatable at the very least. And this is the plant which is perhaps held up the most as an exemplar of an invasive alien plant rampaging through the countryside laying waste wherever it goes. I suspect the truth is that it is a nitrophile and is taking advantage of a whole load of nutrient-saturated soils in ungrazed situations, riparian or woodland. It’s a symptom of a far more fundamental problem, rather than the problem itself.

  4. jethrobrice says:

    From the article to which you link:
    “In the UK, Hulme and Bremner (2005) conducted an experiment at a scale similar to this study in terms of the number of plots and their size, and found a highly significant increase in species richness and diversity following the removal of I. glandulifera. That the same treatment did not result in a significant effect in the Czech Republic, can be attributed to the difference in cover of the invading species. While in the British study, the cover varied from 80% to 100%, it only reached on average 43% at the Czech sites.”

    I don’t have a clear position on Himalayan Balsam, but this article does not seem to support your claim.

  5. Miles King says:

    Thanks Jethro,

    This is from Hulme and Bremner paper

    “The approach adopted in this study highlights that although Impatiens reduces native species diversity in open and frequently disturbed riparian vegetation, many of the species negatively influenced by Impatiens are widespread ruderal species. Furthermore, management may lead to a compensatory increase in the abundance of other non-native species and thus fail to achieve desired conservation goals.”

    As I said to Mark, Balsam where it does become dominant is mostly taking advantage of high nutrient soils, which are otherwise supporting other nitrophiles, such as nettles and other ruderals. As Hulme and Bremner point out, removing Balsam may only provide an opportunity for other non-natives to establish. If you look at the species that returned after removal of Balsam the main benefiting species is Agrostis stolonifera. I would question whether replacing Balsam with creeping bent provided a net benefit from the action. Indeed the authors themselves express scepticism over whether removal of Balsam delivers conservation benefits.

  6. David Dunlop says:

    Alarmingly, this has come as news to me, and some major shifts in my thinking may result – if I find capacity to research this further! In England, removal of INNS (“Invasive Non-native Species”) at catchment scale seems to be Environment Agency (EA) policy and, here in Lancashire/Greater Manchester/Merseyside, the EA has offered some funding to the local Wildlife Trust to map such species (including Himalayan Balsam) in the more northerly catchments, and to propose action. A sudden offer of Defra funding to the (relatively) new Water Framework Directive led Catchment Area Management Partnerships (ChAMPs), seeking “quick win” projects to be completed by March 2016, will likely encourage similar approaches in the southern catchments, though as this would also relate to Giant Hogweed, New Zealand Pygmy Weed, Japanese Knotweed &c perhaps it will not be entirely wasted effortin nature conservation terms – if we’re not all behind in our understanding of the impacts or lack of impacts of those ‘INNS’ as well.

    I have seen a recent infographic on ‘The Himlayan Balsam Question’ – – which I’d taken at face value, without pondering how it related to riparian invertebrate conservation priorities; but I only now realise the context of the 2013 paper which it references; a sign of the hand-to-mouth, reactive climate in which we’re increasingly operating.

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Dave. I like you had assumed HB was the evil menace it had been painted until I started reading the evidence. But Japanese knotweed at least in this country is definitely not a conservation issue; it’s an insurance issue. Japanese knotweed has the capacity to damage buildings, but there is absolutely not evidence that it has caused the decline of any species or habitat in the UK. Even the GOvernment accept that JK damages buildings, block footpaths and flood defences, but doesn’t mention any biodiversity impacts. Likewise Giant Hogweed has a photoxicity which causes human health problems – but biodiversity impacts?

      Crassula helmsii New Zealand Pigmy Weed or Australian Stonecrop, whatever, does appear to have some form in terms of impacts on native species and habitats.

      It seems to me that the real problem visitors are smaller scale – parapox virus on red squirrel, crayfish plague on signal crayfish, and of course ash die back. But these are invisible and require quite diffferent approaches to prevention and control, whereas its much easier to “pull up” some balsam.

  7. Phil Brewin says:

    Hi Miles – thoughtful blog and interesting comments and debate.

    I would like to suggest there may be physical hydromorphological effects of HB dominance on river banks. Grass is a wonderful thing: it is common on UK river banks and the root structure and permanent cover of grass provides an unrivalled level of structural strength to earth banks subject to hydraulic forces, gravity and frost. As an annual, HB dies back in autumn and where dominant can leave river banks bare leaving them more susceptible to sheer forces, slips and frost damage. This causes erosion and siltation in rivers.

    It would be good test whether this is true – is there any evidence?

    Cheers Phil

  8. Pingback: Banksy on immigration: Rascist art? Or a comment on racism? | Paperback Hack

  9. Mike says:

    The damaging affects of HB are well known and documented. Likewise fo r Knotweed. I am quite alarmed by the subjective comments here which I think are wrong and belittle the enormous amount of research and physical effort in dealing with the problem.

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Mike. I was of course being provocative.

      But I also think the science is nowhere near as clear as it seems to be. I have received lots of information about HB following my blog and I will do an update based on it.

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