The firm behind the bracken control chemical Asulox has announced it is to withdraw from further work on the product in a move described as a “hammer blow for farmers and crofters in Scotland.”

For the past 10 years, Asulox has been approved annually as part of an emergency authorisation process on behalf of the UK administration by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, the Scottish Government stated that this year HSE considers that, for the first time, the use of the herbicide does not meet the legislative requirements for emergency authorisation.

NFU Scotland says the move in the absence of any other viable alternative, the ban will consign some of Scotland’s hillside to monocultures of tick-laden nature-depleted bracken, which has ramifications for farmers, crofters, rural communities, human health, and biodiversity.

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use Committee, Peter Douglas said: “Scotland’s farmers and crofters are facing an uphill battle to control existing stands of bracken and prevent further rapid spread from robbing Scottish hillsides of quality grazing for animals and vital habitats for wildlife.

“In the face of there being no viable control alternative to Asulox, the position taken by the Scottish Government in June was a major disappointment, particularly when the product did receive emergency authorisation in England.

The Scottish Farmer: Chair of NFU Scotland's Environment and Land Use CommitteeChair of NFU Scotland's Environment and Land Use Committee

“The potential for emergency reauthorisation of Asulox in 2024 to be successful relied on the support and evidence that UPL would have provided. This will mean there will be no Asulox available for bracken control in 2024 and beyond.

“This is disappointing, as the threat, spread, and impact of bracken across Scotland’s hills and uplands is increasing every day.

“There are non-chemical methods of control available such as bruising, cutting, or rolling. However, on many hill farms, bracken is on land that is too steep or rocky for ground-based vehicles to reach. Attempting non-chemical methods would be an unacceptable health and safety risk and aerial spraying is the only viable option.

“We believe that a more consistent and strategic approach to bracken is needed for the long-term and we will work with other stakeholders in the Bracken Control Group to achieve that. This should be based on improved stewardship and emphasis on integrated pest management.

“However, without a viable control strategy in the short term, this invasive weed will continue to pose a significant and unacceptable threat to biodiversity, agriculture, animal welfare, and public health in Scotland.”

Director of Air Agri which specialises in ariel bracken control, Andrew McGillivray said the decision by the Scottish Government may have been the “final nail in the coffin” in work on Asulox by producer UPL Europe.

He said: “I think Asulox is pretty much dead unless some miracle happens.”

He added the move will have a significant impact, perhaps not in the short-term but in five or ten years’ time.

“I feel the Scottish Government has let the farmers of Scotland down by not understanding the impact of not using Asulox and they should have allowed us time to find out the true impact of not controlling bracken. This should have been in place before the decision not to use Asulox was taken.”

Tory rural affairs spokesperson Rachael Hamilton said: “This is a hammer blow for farmers and crofters in Scotland.

“They had already been ignored by the SNP-Green government when they rejected the emergency use of Asulox earlier this year.

“With the manufacturer now pulling out of any future work, our rural communities – and those visiting them – will face an increased risk of being bitten by ticks, which could lead to Lyme disease.

“This only reinforces the need for an urgent bracken control strategy, if this misguided ban on Asulox is going to continue next year.”