Bracken's invasive tendencies have made it a cause of concern for moorland managers across Britain for many years.
Left unchecked, bracken will quickly shade out and destroy more ecologically valuable habitats, restricting the natural regeneration of other moorland plants and providing a breeding ground for ticks which are a threat to human and other species’ health.
Bracken has no commercial value and is considered a weed, smothering competing vegetation and growing rapidly. The Heather Trust believes that a bracken management programme is an important component of a moorland management plan.
There are many forms of bracken control from hand pulling, crushing and mechanised cutting to the aerial application of chemical control agents - which was principally carried out using products containing Asulam. However, the HSE refused to grant approval for the use of Asulox (the trade name for Asulam) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for bracken control in 2023. This refusal was swiftly followed by a decision by Aulox’s manufacturers, UPL, to “cease further work on a permanent solution for the use of Asulam in the control of bracken”.
With Asulam currently removed from the bracken management toolbox, other effective methods of controlling this invasive plant are crucial if we are to avoid some upland landscapes becoming a monoculture. Spraying with glyphosate is quick and effective (if followed up by subsequent treatments) but this chemical is a universal herbicide and application must be very targeted by a well-calibrated weed wiper to avoid contact with non-target species.
At this critical point in managing an invasive species, the Trust continues to push for better coordination between the many stakeholders with an interest in the control of bracken. The Trust remains actively involved in the Bracken Management Group (which it helped form in 2013) and supports it in finding an acceptable and balanced solutions to this problem which affects both human health and biodiversity.