Highlands & Islands

Calls to protect bracken control chemical from EU ban

A plant blamed for spreading ticks and harming the quality of farmland will be more difficult to control if a chemical is banned, NFU Scotland has said.

The farmers' union is opposed to a move to stop the use of Asulam, a herbicide applied to bracken in Scotland.

Highland Liberal Democrat councillor Robbie Rowantree has also joined the call for Asulam's continued use.

The European Union's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health may agree to a ban later this week.

The committee will meet on Thursday and Friday. On the agenda is a recommendation that the use of the herbicide be disallowed from September 2012.

'Crucial grazing'

NFU Scotland said the move towards a ban was connected to its use on crops elsewhere in Europe, not bracken.

Andrew Bauer, the union's policy manager, said there was a lack of alternative products.

He said: "If bracken is not controlled, it grows rampantly, overtaking crucial grazing land and providing a habitat in which parasitic ticks thrive causing a threat to animal health and human health, for instance through Lyme Disease.

"Dense bracken cover can cause land to be ineligible for Single Farm Payment and Less Favoured Area support and, if left unchecked, can lead to cross-compliance penalties for farmers as well."

Mr Rowantree, who is also head gamekeeper on Gordonbush Estate, near Brora, said bracken spores were also believed to pose a risk to human health.

He said: "If you ingest the spores it gives off either through your nose or mouth, or by eating them, it increases your chances of cancer."

The British Journal of Cancer has reported on a link between bracken and damage to human DNA.

Mr Rowantree added: "The EU are taking payments away from people if they have bracken on their ground, yet they are taking away the only means of controlling it."

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