Saturday, 19 March 2011

Asulam: The loss of effective bracken control?

There has been a lot of discussion about Asulam recently.  This chemical is the active ingredient of Asulox, which is the only bracken control agent that can be applied from a helicopter, and it is up for re-registration within the EU system. 
The debate surrounding the re-registration of this product is too complex to go into in detail here, but the issue to be aware of is that there is a threat to the continued availability of Asulam for bracken control.  As the only chemical licensed for aerial application, its loss would be catastrophic.
The snappily named Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health is the EU organisation that will decide the future of Asulam.  The Committee met on 11 March and could have decided not to allow re-registration at that meeting, but due to a blocking minority on the Committee a discussion was postponed until the next meeting on 4-5 May.
Many people have made representations to Defra and into the EU.  I telephoned contacts in England, Wales & Scotland and found universal support for the continued availability of Asulam.  Prof Rob Marrs, the Trust’s President, is also the Chairman of the International Bracken Group and with Rob I produced a statement in support of Asulam that was circulated widely, and The Daily Telegraph printed a modified version of this statement in the Letters page on 14 March.  Other press coverage: Farmers Guardian, Scottish Farmer, The Scotsman, and NFUOnline.
Many people are campaigning for the continued availability of Asulam and if this is a subject as dear to your heart as it is to mine, please will you make every effort to draw attention to this issue.  Without Asulam, the ability to control bracken in the uplands will, to all intents and purposes, disappear.  Grazing area will be lost, hitting the economics of uplands farming; the landscape will suffer, as a bracken monoculture will encroach into more diverse areas; biodiversity in the uplands will be reduced and the loss of heather is likely to accelerate; with the bracken the favoured habitat for sheep ticks will expand, and with it the associated prevalence of human, livestock and bird diseases; and water quality is likely to be affected.  There is not much in favour of an expansion of bracken coverage.  As a very significant side effect of the loss of Asulam, the aerial spraying companies would go out of business, resulting in a loss of any aerial spraying capacity in the country.
Currently we are in limbo.  We have a window of opportunity to raise the profile of this issue and please will you help in whatever way possible.  If the decision goes against Asulam, the current registration would expire in September 2012, and after that we will be faced with trying to control bracken using ground based equipment, or more likely on the more difficult terrain, leaving bracken to its own devices.

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