Temporary triumph in bracken battle

Moorland owners are heralding a temporary triumph following furore over an EU ban on the only effective bracken control herbicide.
Moorland owners are heralding a temporary triumph following furore over an EU ban on the only effective bracken control herbicide.

THE future for bracken control has received a boost with the successful emergency authorisation application by the Bracken Control Group.

That application will allow the aerial application of the key bracken control product, Asulam in 2013.

Use of the product will be permitted from July 1 but those wishing to use a bracken control service this year are urged to contact their aerial sprayers as soon as possible

In 2011, Asulam was banned across the EU, principally to do with concerns over its use on spinach. However, given its valued role in tackling the spread of bracken across hillsides, industry has been working jointly towards an emergency authorisation.

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said: “The work of the Bracken Control Group in securing a National Emergency Authorisation for the 2013 season is hugely important for Scottish hill farmers.

“Given the dramatic impact that large-scale stands of bracken have on human and animal health coupled with reduced grazing and agricultural productivity, it was essential that we ensure land managers continue to have the necessary tools available to manage the huge problem that bracken presents.

“That brings relief for the 2013 season but works goes on to seeking a similar authorisation for 2014 and, hopefully, full re-authorisation in due course.”

Moorland owners are heralding a temporary triumph following furore over an EU ban on the only effective bracken control herbicide.

Moorland Association chairman, Robert Benson, said members were delighted to have a season’’s breathing space.

He added: “”It gives us time to further galvanise efforts to safeguard Asulam’s long-term use in protecting vast tracts of precious moorland from massive bracken infestation.

“Without this safe, selective, government-approved herbicide, bracken would change the face of Britain’s countryside, devastating wildlife and destroying grouse moor management.

“Around £100 million a year would be lost to the UK rural economy.

“Three quarters of the world’’s heather moorland is found in the UK and without Asulam, 50 per cent would already be gone.””

Simon Thorp, Bracken Control Group co-ordinator explained the long-term future for Asulam was still in the balance.

He said: “”On the one hand this is a victory, on the other we must wait to see if Brussels will re-register the herbicide and that will not happen until 2016 at the earliest.

““We will have to re-apply for an emergency authorisation again next year and it will be illegal to store asulam during 2013, before and after the agreed dates. The battle over bracken has only temporarily been won.

Moorland owners have said the ban would devastate Britain’s rural economy. They argued the breeding of Britain’’s unique wild red grouse would be badly hit, along with the grouse shooting industry, worth £67.7 million in England and £23.3 million in Scotland.

They say over 2,500 jobs would be put at risk, threatening the designated habitat of 46 other important moorland-dependent bird species.

Dr Alastair Leake, director of policy with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust said: “This decision is beneficial on so many fronts - human health, biodiversity, agriculture, leisure, historic environment etc. Not least because the environment created by bracken beds has been shown to favour Sheep Tick Ixodes ricinus activity with up to 70% of all tick activity in heath and dry moorland areas associated with bracken dominated habitats.”

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat South Scotland MSP and Rural Affairs Committee Member, described the news as a huge relief for hill farmers across Berwickshire and East Lothian.

Mr Hume said: “The control of bracken on hill farms is a big problem and today’s news that Asulam will be permitted in controlling this weed will come as a huge relief to farmers and land managers.

“Bracken is a haven for ticks, which are harmful to both humans and stock. But it also grows thick and shades out wild plants and pasture so it does have an impact on biodiversity.

“Bracken has had an increasing foothold on hills in parts of the region in recent years and I welcome this useful step in controlling it.”