With the bracken control season now in full swing, the use of a selective weedkiller will be one of the key tools to battle the advances of a plant which threatens to swamp much of the country’s varied grazing land.
All products containing Asulum – the only effective spray – have been banned across the EU since December 2011.
However, in contrast to the recent situation with neonicotinoid products, authorisation was sought – and granted – for emergency use of Asulam to control bracken in 2013 and again this year. It remains under strict control, the emergency use being restricted to a 120-day period, which ends on 15 September. After this date, there follows a use-up period until 31 October during which Asulam can be applied to bracken or returned to the suppliers – thereafter, it will be illegal to hold the product.
Co-ordinator of the Bracken Control Group, Simon Thorp, said that, contrary to the situation with neonicotinoids, no groups had been lobbying against the use of Asulam: “While no-one wants to spray any chemicals about if it can be avoided, there is no other product available which will selectively control bracken.”
He said that the plant was taking over many thousands of acres of ground and swamping out all other plant life. The majority of conservation groups - including in the crucial area of butterfly conservation – wanted to see a wide range of plants growing in the uplands, hills and islands rather than a monoculture of bracken.
“So everybody is pretty much on-side for its continued emergency use, including both the Scottish and UK governments,” said Thorp.
He added that Asulam’s use on bracken had only been a minor part of the original market but added that the current manufacturers, United Phosphorous Ltd, had now been persuaded to re-register the product for this use.
“The process is likely to take some years – and in the meantime it is crucial that we retain the emergency use.”