Shooting estates put Red Grouse before public health.

Asulam has been removed from a list of chemicals approved for use within the European Union because of safety fears about its occasional use on spinach. However this herbicide, most commonly sold as ‘Asulox’, is mainly used to fight the spread of bracken (ie. Pteridium aquilinum) in moorland areas of Europe and estates should be concerned about the potential implications of this ban.

Asulam is the preferred chemical available to control bracken and its loss will not be a blow to efforts to manage moorlands. There are even fears that a potential explosion in unmanaged bracken will result in an increase in people contracting Lyme’s disease. This is because bracken is a favoured habitat of several species of ticks which can transmit the infectious disease to people.

It was hoped that common sense would win the day when in 2007 six member states, the UK, Ireland, France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic said no to the proposed ban. But that wasn’t enough and the decision was referred to an EU appeals committee. Subsequent lobbying of the representatives on that committee fell on deaf ears and the appeals committee upheld the decision to ban Asulam.

As a result, all EU members states must withdraw the registration of any products containing Asulam, and stocks of the herbicide must be used by the end of 2012. Thereafter countries will have to demonstrate that they need an emergency derogation to continue to allow its use. United Phosphorus Ltd (UPL) in Europe, who produce the herbicide under the product name ‘Asulox’, are hoping they can get Asulam readmitted to the approved list. However, due the amount of bureaucracy involved, that won’t happen until 2016 at the earliest.

Following the ban on the use of Asulux for reducing the spread of Bracken on heather moorland by the E u r o p e a n   Foo d S a f e t y A u t h o r i t y due to its adverse effect on food safety, once again the shooting estates can be seen to be putting their birds before the safety of people and the environment.

Make no mistake Asulux is a deadly poison and should not be used near water courses which is the commonest area to find bracken sprayed by these estates. The commonest method is by areal spray which can drift over many water courses. Once in Northumbria swimmers bathing at an upland pools were covered with this deadly poison when sprayed from an helicopter which passed over-head!

The commonest way to increase bracken growth in the uplands is by the use of fire used by these estates to burn heather. Not only does burning encourage the spread of Bracken but it also damages the very ground most of this heather is growing on. The recent court case against the Wuthering Moor by Natural England was against the use of fire on the moor so why has the ‘Bracken Control’ Group got a representative from Natural England on its list of advisers? The reason being that Natural England are worried by the presence of Bracken on lowland heathland not upland moorlands which is where the majority of the Bracken is found.

The Heather Trust are the co-ordinators of this group which include mainly the shooting and farming interest but curriously there is no mention of real alternatives for the removal of Bracken. With the Lake District National park  also represented on the group you would feel that they would be pushing alternatives around the ‘public’ park not continuous use of chemicals which can effect the public health as well as damaging the water courses which make up so much of the Lake District.

The one big alternative is planting trees in the Bracken. This would create biodiversity and aid some of Britain’s rarest game birds including Black Grouse and Capercaille. In many cases Bracken can be removed due to the lack of light, competition and the return of more species of flora. So why is the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust not pushing this method of control as they also a member of this group. Most of the areas where bracken is now common was once covered by trees before mismanagement reduced the hill sides to open ground. No they all want heather for one game bird the Red Grouse.

Read what the friend to Eagle Owls, Richard Benyon MP  has been writing, details of which are included as a pdf file in the Documents on the Bracken Control web site. –

Some of his first words are ‘Bracken Control is vital for the protection of Heather Moorland’.  Richard Benyon of course would not have any interest in Red Grouse would he!!

As for the so called experts at Liverpool University, have come out in support of chemicals to control Bracken. Sadly again these experts have no practical experience with the job in hand claiming that under grazing is expanding Bracken in the uplands where in fact Natural England claim this is not the case.

Next Bracken causes stomach cancer. Well this was Japanese folk eating the fronds as if it was Asparagus. Well what about the spread of ticks and Lyme disease. Ticks are found in all vegetation from mountain to sea level so by removing the Bracken the ticks would use other vegetation like heather even grass if it was allowed to grow on our fells!

Not once do any of these organisations hint that the EU ban is for the benefit for public health. To speak out would go against the interests of the Red Grouse moor owner and his birds, so we should all shut up and keep paying our taxes for the benefit of the Red Grouse while public health is ignored.


9 comments to Shooting estates put Red Grouse before public health.

  • Circus maximus

    Bracken likes the better soils, so in the uplands it does tend to grow where we would expect woodland and scrub to grow. When it gets so dense that it is standing six foot tall then nothing other than moss and the odd spring flower will grow underneath it. If you plant trees in dense bracken they die. So before you plant (or try for regen) you have to kill the bracken. On sloping/rocky ground cutting simply is not practical therefore the use of chemical is the logical choice. Again in practical terms there has been a choice of two chemicals Roundup(or round up based) or Asulox. Roundup is non-specific and kills all plantlife. Although it breaks down in the soil it is also extremely toxic to animal life. Asulox is a selective killer, it is effective against ferns and most moss species but tends not to kill most other higher plants. It is nowhere near as harmful to animal life as roundup. I have never really found out if it is true, but on several occassions I have been told that Auslan was actually developed by Bayer as a medicine for people to take internally.
    Bracken is not spread by grazing. Grazing sheep allows it to spread, prior to the dominance of sheep in the uplands, cattle grazing would inhibit the spread. (It was also cut for bedding etc).
    Burning releases nutrients (and dries peat) and therefore promotes plant growth. After a fire the bracken rhizomes utilise the nutrients far more effectively than heather (which often has to start again from seed)…it simply out competes and spreads vigourously. You should never burn heather which is in contact with bracken.

    Fire is a bigger problem all round. It is often used to convert blanket bog habitat into dry “grouse moor”, which is a bit of a national disgrace.

  • Not just grouse moors. Bradford Council is to receive funding for bracken management on Baildon Moor as a commitment under a 10-year HLS agreement. The Moor is publicly owned, ungrazed by commoners since 2001, and is heavily used by walkers and horse riders. The Bracken Management Plan indicates herbicide spraying from a helicopter. The Bracken Management Plan and the Farm Environment Plan are ignorant of the most important fern on the moor – adders tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) one of only 10 locations in West Yorkshire. Mosses and liverworts are also at risk.

    There is also no mention of the roe deer on the moor. Long periods during the day are spent “lying up” in the seclusion of the bracken, ruminating between feedings. It is highly likely that roe deer does also make use of the cover of bracken on the moor to safely shelter their young during mid to late summer. There is often a heavy mortality at and shortly after birth and during the first winter, and so refuge for roe young is very important.

    There are many other errors and omissions that reduce confidence in this HLS agreement. Thus the FEP overstates the importance of open landscape fauna on the moor, but ignores the increasing presence of kestrels and owls now the grasses grow longer, it has no mention of a number of wild plants, a map reference in the Bracken Management Plan locates part of Baildon Moor just below Huddersfield, the area and spatial location of the HLS agreement shown on the Natural England website are significantly wrong. This all could have been avoided if there had been some collaboration with the wider knowledge available within the parish council and Baildon. This was particularly important as the HLS agreement now takes away the ability of local people to decide for themselves about Baildon Moor, and puts it in the hands of Natural England.

    The sale of Asulox was banned in the EU at the end of 2011, although those holding stocks can use it up to the end of 2012. The Countryside Service of Bradford Council stockpiled Asulox last year. These are the reasons why Asulox has been banned, taken from the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1045/2011 of 19 October 2011:
    “It was not possible to perform a reliable consumer exposure assessment as data were missing concerning the presence and toxicity of the metabolite sulfanilamide, as well as concerning the presence of other potentially significant metabolites that were not analysed in the available residue trials and processing studies. Furthermore, no data was available on the toxicological relevance of the impurities in the technical specification of the active substance. In addition, a high risk to birds was identified”

    Ariel spraying of any pesticide was banned in the EU in 2009. By way of derogation from that ban in Directive 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009, aerial spraying may only be allowed in special cases provided certain conditions are met. These include:
    • there must be no viable alternatives
    • there must be specific risk management measures to ensure that there are no adverse effects on the health of bystanders
    • the competent authorities shall specify the measures necessary for warning residents and bystanders in due time and to protect the environment in the vicinity of the area sprayed

    The Countryside Service have a provisionally booked a helicopter for spraying Asulox on Baildon Moor in August. Their response to safety concerns thus far is:
    “We can put up signs and marshal on the day of spraying, but I think helicopter pilots are experienced at avoiding pedestrians”

    This is about competencies as much as it is about a lack of consultation. The banning of Asulox and of ariel spraying been known for some time. It begs the question of why the HLS agreement doesn’t give recognition to this, and assumes that there will be continuous use of Asulox available. Bracken management is not a simple or reliable process, and spraying from a helicopter is a disgusting practice especially in a public space.

  • sh23363

    In the last decade or so there has been a blitz on bracken. No self respecting moor owner can hold his head up in Society unless war on bracken on his ground has been declared. Sadly Estates have usually failed to follow the guidance and have left large areas of eroding bare ground delivering sediment to watercourses. The ban should afford the opportunity to tackle this horrendous mess.

    The asulox ban is without doubt a good thing for the environment.

  • Circus maximus

    Asulox has been banned for its application as a treatment for bracken (for which it was never assessed). It was originally licenced as a herbicide for treating kale and asparagus (I think…cant find the reference). As far as I am aware, the ban only applies to the use on bracken.
    Re the bracken control plan at Baildon Moor…the folk should be told where the adders tongue is and they should avoid the patch. I have seen an extensive patch of adders tongue successfully survive a asulox spraying (by accident). I think it was because the adders tongue tends to have died off and gone underground before the early august spraying window for the bracken.

  • John Miles

    If you want to see the results of tree planting in Bracken without chemicals you have to come to Geltsdale and look at the work carried out in 1983. No chemicals were ever used just ‘weeding’. Weeding is some thing which has been lost due to the discovery of ‘grow tubes’. As said grow tubes do not do the job in Bracken as the Bracken tends to grow up threw the tubes and dominate the tree inside. Some interesting plantations contain Broad Buckler Fern now that the Bracken has disappeared while others have become Bluebell woods. One of the plantations contain the best young Sessile Oak grown in Cumbria! The future plantations need a work force [3 million unemployed!]not chemicals. Man has become lazy and lost the knowledge of the past!!

  • Asulox is banned for any use. COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 1045/2011 of 19 October 2011:
    Article 1
    Non-approval of active substance
    The active substance asulam is not approved.

    I’m looking out of my window up to Baildon Moor at the mountain ash (rowan) that have grown up through the bracken since grazing ceased in 2001 after FMD. Every year, more mountain ash come up. The bracken does not need clearing for these trees to seed in after being pooped out by birds.

  • John Miles

    Mountain Ash is one of the few trees adapted to grow threw thick tall Bracken on its own. The early growth sheds its outer pinnate branches allowing a clean stem for the bracken to fall down passed it not pulling the tree down with it. Once the tree grows up it shades out the Bracken allowing other trees to germinate around it. As pointed out birds bring the seed to the bracken in the first place.

  • Circus maximus

    I think we would love to have the luxury of unlimited man-power and time but most grant supported projects have a life of 5 years……
    I guess we must have too many deer to allow the rowans to appear in the bracken.

  • John Miles

    How much do you think any government pays out in unemployment benefit! Then there is the social side of ill health, crime etc. I used to run a 24 man team working in the uplands plus volunteers. Look at the Bradford situation. How many unemployed could work that common land. It only needs initiative which this country lacks at the moment as too many people look after number 1. The recent sale of the Forestry Commission was a typical situation where if the people did not rise up they would have ended up with nothing. Try reading the Gateshead piece in this document on how WE should be running OUR woods and of course the same applies for OUR countryside not theirs.