Scots farmers struggling to control bracken without Asulox

The withdrawal of the herbicide asulam, the active ingredient in Asulox, has posed significant challenges for Scottish farmers and crofters in controlling bracken on their land.

This herbicide was a primary tool for bracken control until its market withdrawal at the end of 2012.

Despite a decade of emergency authorisations allowing its continued use, the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Chemicals Regulation Division recommended in 2023 that asulam should not be approved for bracken control due to its harmful effects.

See also: Scotland and Wales denied use of bracken control herbicide

The devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have upheld the HSE’s recommendation, opting not to approve emergency authorisations for Asulox, whereas England has chosen to continue its use.

This decision has left Scottish farmers grappling with rampant bracken growth, which threatens the sustainability of their farms.

During a press briefing at the Royal Highland Show on Thursday 20 June, Scottish rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon reiterated the government’s stance against reauthorising Asulox, emphasising the decision was based on its detrimental effects.

“Our position remains the same,” she said. “We agreed with the HSE’s recommendation that Asulox should not be reauthorised for use, I think because of the harmful effects of it.”

Farms ‘overrun’ with bracken

She acknowledged the severity of the bracken problem, noting that it was encroaching on farm sustainability, but maintained that any new applications for Asulox or alternative chemicals would need to undergo the proper authorisation process.

In response to the Asulox decision, the Scottish government has established a stakeholder group to explore alternative bracken control methods.

This includes investigating mechanical control measures, with continuing efforts to find viable solutions for farmers struggling with bracken proliferation.

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