Temporary victory in battle to keep bracken-killer

FARMERS have won a temporary reprieve against an EU proposal to ban a chemical used for killing bracken, writes Sally Gillespie.

Brussels commissioners say they have withdrawn the plan – though will not necessarily ultimately change their minds on the chemical, asulam, which is marketed as Asulox.

NFU Scotland’s Selkirk branch chairman Alec Telfer said: “I’m absolutely delighted but I hope everybody keeps campaigning because it is our only real tool to control bracken.”

The chemical is licensed at European level for spinach but is more commonly used in Britain for killing bracken and docks.

“They [EU commissioners] need to re-look at it and decide that it’s not for spinach, because farmers hardly use it for that. We want them to re-licence it for bracken control and, if they ban it for spinach, so be it,” said Mr Telfer.

NFU Scotland says the Chemical Regulation Directorate, which deals with pesticides approval and use in the UK, as well as Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish Government and Scottish MEPs George Lyon and Struan Stevenson all support the use of asulam.

Other chemicals can kill bracken but also take out trees, heather and other plants. And farmers know that dense bracken 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, aside from taking over grazing land.

Mr Telfer said: “Asulox is a vital tool in our armoury. Bracken spreads like wildfire and results in a loss of grazing. It can smother a hillside.

“It harbours ticks, which cause real problems for sheep and cattle. If a lamb is attacked by ticks you get high mortality.

“There are also implications for human health: ticks carry Lyme disease and the spores from bracken are carcinogenic. There are a lot of threats there for the viability of the countryside.”