Professor Rob Marrs, from the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Bracken is one of the most invasive weeds worldwide and it is a particular problem in the UK, especially in the uplands. At present most wide-scale efforts to control this species involves the use of a selective herbicide – asulam, which is often applied from the air by helicopter.
“The EC Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) completed a review of asulam, so that it might continue to be registered for use within the EU. The review took into consideration concerns about food safety, as identified by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA), linked to asulam use on food crops, and on spinach in particular. The matter was referred to an Appeals Committee this week, which ruled that asulum could not be used in the EU.
“In the UK, asulam is the most appropriate choice of a herbicide for use in upland Britain.
It is approved for helicopter application and can be applied over rugged terrain. Asulum is selective and therefore it can be used where there are other plant species, and most will be unaffected. Its main use is on non-crop land where there is no possibility of it affecting food crops and especially spinach.
“It is one of the most effective weapons for bracken control and there is currently no substitute available that is approved for aerial use. It is predicted that there will be a reduction in bracken control, which will lead to increased land under dense bracken and loss of upland sheep and cattle grazing.”
Simon Thorp makes a very important point that the manufacturer of asulam have undertaken to re-apply for EU approval. However, as it stands at the moment asulam has to be taken off the shelves at the end of this year and there will be 12 months grace to use up herbicide on the shelf. New approval could take some time, possibly as long as 4 years.
This means that there could be a major gap in bracken control which will take a very long time to recover. Most serious is that the aerial spraying contracting business will be at risk as asulam is the only pesticide applied in large amounts from the air. The re-establishment of this business sector will inevitably be problematic. As this sector act very responsibly and have worked very hard to reduce environmental risks over the last 20 years or so (partly as a result of research carried out in my laboratory) this is a major issue.
This is a serious issue for managers of upland and lowland rural areas and as Rob Marrs has suggested, while Asulam is unavailable to keep bracken in check, expansion of bracken cover in many areas at the expense of other species is inevitable. The owners of Asulam have undertaken to re-apply for EU approval for Asulam and in the meantime the bracken control industry is investigating how to fill the gap. For more details see the Blog at http://heathertrust.blogspot.com
Simon Thorp, Director, The Heather Trust
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