Britains iconic moorlands could be lost due to herbicide ban

yorkshire heather moorland

yorkshire heather moorland (photo credit: Moorland Association)

Concerns are being raised that the ban of the herbicide Asulam by the EU could lead to major losses of Britain’s heather moorlands. The chemical is the most effective bracken control herbicide available and it ban at the end of the year could mean maintaining the habitat becomes too difficult.

Britain has 75% of the world’s heather moorlands and substantial parts of it remains as heather moorlands thanks to active management. Without effective control of bracken the richness of the plant and insect life will soon be lost.

The Moorland Association (MA) claims that the ban on Asulam could put at risk 850,00 acres of habitat as the moors owners – predominately shooting estates – will not be able to successfully mange the land.

Asulam will be banned from use at the end of the year because of concerns raised with its use on spinach crops. Rather than just ban the herbicide from human crops the EU have chosen a general ban to be more effective.

MA vice chairman George Winn-Darley, who manages 6,500 acres of North Yorkshire heather moorland, said “Without the government-approved chemical, successfully and safely used for 35 years, our countryside and rural livelihoods will suffer very serious consequences.

 “This will not only adversely affect biodiversity, including red list endangered species, but radically impact on grouse management, jobs and ultimately the appearance of globally important moors

Three quarters of the world’s heather moorland is found in the UK. Without Asulam, we would have already lost 50 per cent of it. Designed to safeguard continentally grown spinach, the ban will be devastating to our rural economy as moorland gives way to the suffocating effects of bracken.

The heather moorlands are iconic of northern Britain and apart from the pheasant shooters the moors often draw tourists into the regions to see the changing colours as the seasons progress.

Because of the delicate and fragile habitat type the moorlands can often have a high number of endangered species, particularly plants and insects, and are often given special nature protection such as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status. Any substantial loss of the ecosystem type could have major implications for some species.

Asulam was banned for general use in Europe in 2011 and people have until 31st December to use up stocks before the ban in its use takes full effect.

Controlling bracken can be difficult and it can take 10 years before the impacts of bracken management start to show. It’s an aggressive grower and can expand it’s range by 5% a year smothering out light and resources to smaller ground plants. This leads to a degradation of the habitat for a range of species including ground-nesting birds.

Over the last 10 years 350 square miles of heather moorland has been sprayed with Asulam  either to keep bracken at bay or to extend the amount of heather moorland habitat.

Some of Britain’s favourite birds make their homes on the moorlands including:

  • Black Grouse
  • Skylark
  • Nightjar
  • Lesser Redpoll
  • Linnet
  • Curlew
  • Ring Ouzel
  • Lapwing

External sites:

Moorlands Association.


Posted in Birds, Insects, Plant life and tagged , , , .
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