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Saturday, 19 May 2012

EU ban may spell the end of Scotland’s purple hills

EU ban may spell the end of Scotland’s purple hills

David Leask

21 Sep 2011

IT is the ruling that could turn Scotland’s purple hills a nasty shade
of green.

The European Parliament has outlawed the only chemical that kills
bracken, the prehistoric fern that would cover much of the country if
uncontrolled.

Horrified conservationists and farmers – who had forged an unlikely
alliance to fight the ban – last night warned the move would have a
devastating effect on Scottish uplands.

For years landowners have used the chemical Asulam – better known by its
trade name Asulox – to spray hills to kill off bracken and its
complicated and expansive root systems.

Simon Thorp, of charity The Heather Trust, said: “Without Asulox we are
going to see a huge expansion of bracken, especially on lower slopes of
hills. Bracken is going to replace heather.

“We like to think of the colour of Scottish hills as the purple of
heather. Well, that will now change.

“What people don’t seem to realise is that much of Scotland would be
naturally covered with bracken, by a plant so successful it was around
when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.”

The Heather Trust is one of scores of organisations as varied as
farmers’ union NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government, state environment
watchdogs SEPA and Scottish Natural Heritage, and the National
Gamekeepers Organisation which opposed the ban.

Most are not just worried about how Scotland will look without Asulox,
which is usually sprayed on an industrial scale from helicopters. They
are also concerned about the massive economic effects an expansion of
bracken would have on the country.

Outdoor pursuits such as hillwalking, shooting and deer-stalking are all
going to suffer, they have warned. So too will sheep farming.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller uses Asulox on his own Borders hill
farm. He said: “The lack of alternative products – particularly those
suitable for aerial spraying – means more of Scotland’s hills and
uplands run the risk of disappearing under a carpet of impenetrable
bracken.”

***Last night health concerns were also emerging about the decision –
bracken is rife with sheep ticks that can cause deadly Lyme disease.***

Crucially, MEPs backed the ban because Asulox has been found to be
unsafe for use as a herbicide on spinach crops, hardly an issue in Scotland.

It is understood to be perfectly safe to use on bracken, which isn’t
eaten and is widely believed to be carcinogenic itself.

Alyn Smith, the Scottish Nationalist MEP, has been warning of a problem
with the chemical since early this spring and said yesterday’s decision
was “no surprise”. Last night he was still hopeful something could be
done to fix the issue.

He said the manufacturer, India-based United Phosphorus Limited (UPL),
should have done more to make clear in its paperwork that the chemical
is for bracken, not spinach.

Mr Smith said: “This issue has been frustrating from the start, and I am
even more frustrated that I have to repeat the advice I gave the company
by letter back in early April. Advice they not only did not take but did
not even see fit to respond to.”

Asulox must now be withdrawn from sale by the end of the year and
farmers have until Hogmanay 2012 to use what stocks they have.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he was deeply disappointed
by the decision “not to support the continued use of asulam, which is
vitally important to control bracken on hill farms.

“Farmers will still be able to buy asulam up to December 31, 2011, and
store it for use up to December 31, 2012. From January 2013,
applications for an emergency authorisation for the use of asulam can be
made to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate until a longer term
solution is found.”