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Farming: Asulam announcement is a further blow to bracken control in Scotland

By David Porter

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An announcement this week from the manufacturers of the only viable plant protection product available to control bracken on Scottish hillsides has been described as "a further blow to controlling this invasive plant."

Asulox can be used to control bracken.
Asulox can be used to control bracken.

The manufacturers of Asulox (active ingredient Asulam), UPL ltd, are to withdraw from carrying out further work on a permanent solution that would support the use of Asulam in the future.

A tick on the prowl...
A tick on the prowl...

Although granted an emergency authorisation for use in England this year, the Scottish Government announced in June that Asulox would not be authorised for use in 2023.

For the past 10 years, Asulox had been approved annually as part of an emergency authorisation process.

In the absence of any other viable alternative, the ban will consign some of Scotland’s hillside to monocultures of tick-laden nature-depleted bracken, which has ramifications for farmers, crofters, rural communities, human health, and biodiversity.

Peter Douglas
Peter Douglas

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use Committee, Peter Douglas said: “Scotland’s farmers and crofters are facing an uphill battle to control existing stands of bracken and prevent further rapid spread from robbing Scottish hillsides of quality grazing for animals and vital habitats for wildlife.

“In the face of there being no viable control alternative to Asulox, the position taken by the Scottish Government in June was a major disappointment, particularly when the product did receive emergency authorisation in England.

“The potential for emergency reauthorisation of Asulox in 2024 to be successful relied on the support and evidence that UPL would have provided.

"This will mean that there will be no Asulox available for bracken control in 2024 and beyond.

“This is disappointing, as the threat, spread and impact of bracken across Scotland’s hills and uplands is increasing every day.

“There are non-chemical methods of control available such as bruising, cutting or rolling. However, on many hill farms, bracken is on land that is too steep or rocky for ground-based vehicles to reach. Attempting non-chemical methods would be an unacceptable health and safety risk and aerial spraying is the only viable option.

“We believe that a more consistent and strategic approach to bracken is needed for the long-term and we will work with other stakeholders in the Bracken Control Group to achieve that. This should be based on improved stewardship and emphasis on integrated pest management.

“However, without a viable control strategy in the short term, this invasive weed will continue to pose a significant and unacceptable threat to biodiversity, agriculture, animal welfare, and public health in Scotland.”

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