Scots farmers issue urgent plea for bracken control herbicide

Hill farmers in Scotland have issued an urgent plea to the government to reauthorise a selective herbicide used to control bracken.

NFU Scotland said an application for the use of Asulox (asulam) was submitted to the Chemicals Regulation Division of the Health and Safety Executive last November, but a decision has not been made.

If successful, this will allow Asulox to be used for bracken control in Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the 2023 season.

See also: Parallel imports of pesticides ‘cliff-edge’ must be avoided, NFU says

Typically, Asulox is sprayed from July, when bracken develops, until the plants die back, which can be as early as the start of August, depending on the weather.

NFU Scotland says bracken is the “perfect harbour” for ticks, which carry a range of diseases, including Lyme disease. There is currently no alternative to Asulox for controlling bracken, it adds.

‘Dereliction of duty’

Hill farmer Brian Walker, an NFUS member from Inveraray in Argyll, looks after 1,011ha of hill ground with 80 suckler cows and 950 breeding ewes.

Failure to provide authorisation would be a “dereliction of duty to protect farmers, crofters, the rural workforce and public health”, he warned.

Mr Walker said the warm weather had triggered a big increase in ticks this season and animals were at risk of getting seriously ill.

“Redwater disease in cattle and louping ill in sheep are nasty diseases. So, it is ironic that to protect our animals, we would have to use chemicals on them, rather than control the problem at the source by removing bracken,” he added.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government recognises concerns about the potential risks of uncontrolled bracken in Scotland, particularly in relation to tick populations.

“Asulox is a herbicide with no current EU or UK authorisation – an emergency authorisation of the product is required to meet specific legislative conditions, to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment.

“HSE will issue its decision to the applicant once all other UK governments have responded.”

A spokesperson for NFU Cymru agreed it was essential that emergency authorisation for Asulox to control bracken is granted for Wales and the UK in general.

Failure to control bracken also increases the risk of more wildfires breaking out in heathland and moorland during the hot summer months, the spokesperson added.

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