Effort needed to eradicate giant hogweed

'It's very simple to spray it with herbicide - it just needs co-ordination and a bit of cash,' says local community group.

Giant hogweed: cause of blisters. Image: PCA
Giant hogweed: cause of blisters. Image: PCA

Recent news reports of people being injured by giant hogweed have led to calls for a more co-ordinated effort to eradicate the plant.

Spells of bright weather have led to some serious cases of the sap causing skin blistering this summer.

Amenity Forum chair John Moverley said recent reports highlight the dangers posed by the plant and the need for control measures implemented by professionals.

"They are particularly difficult plants to control and it incurs a cost, which is difficult for local authorities with reduced budgets. But there is a need to have some co-ordinated action on it," he said.

Mike Duddy of community group the Mersey Basin Rivers Trust added: "We've been campaigning against giant hogweed for a number of years. It's not impossible to eradicate this plant. What it needs is a co-ordinated effort from local authorities, Government departments and community groups.

"It's very simple to spray it with herbicide. It's effective and just needs co-ordination and a bit of cash to do it. Secretary of state Greg Clark needs to give direction to local councils, Defra, the Environment Agency and community groups."

The Property Care Association's (PCA) invasive weed control group chairman Professor Max Wade said sunny weather has caused the reaction that causes blisters. Control is expensive and he is "sceptical that a shotgun approach to eradicate giant hogweed would achieve much in the medium-term".

But he said parks managers should know where giant hogweed occurs in their area and check local environmental records centres to find out whether neighbouring properties harbour the plant. Seeds travel via wind, streams and along paths to new locations, so parks staff should be vigilant.

Wade advised erecting temporary fencing and signs around patches to warn the public and explain what to do should a person come into contact with the plant. Councils could run education campaigns on prevention and treatment, he added.

Risk assessments should be undertaken if parks staff are to tackle the invader themselves rather than hire specialists, said Wade. AECOM and PCA are running forums on invasive weed control.

For PCA guidance notes, see www.property-care.org.

Toxic liability - Focus sharpened by potential threat of legal action

Invasive weed control group chairman Professor Max Wade said he is surprised no families have sued local authorities after their children have been injured.

"There are some practices in the legal profession now that specialise in Japanese knotweed, where neighbours are trying to sue because of the loss of value on their property. I can well imagine that would readily translate into giant hogweed."

In such a case it would be important for the council to show it had tried to avoid such an incident occurring, he added.

EU regulations due to come into force next year could see landowners fined up to £20,000 and prosecuted if they fail to control invasive species. It is not yet known what species will be targeted in the UK.

Current legislation empowers police and local authorities to issue antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs) to people who fail to remove Japanese knotweed and there is precedent to do the same for giant hogweed.

Wade said local authorities would be unlikely to issue ASBOs against themselves for failing to control the plant. But they could be criminally liable if they spread the soil around the plant to a new location. See http://planttracker.naturelocator.org.

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