Landowners/Managers and Farmers
An application for the use of Asulam in 2021 has been submitted by the Bracken Control Group to the UK Government and it is likely this will be reviewed by the Expert Committee on Pesticides on March 9th. Emergency Authorisation has been granted every year since 2012 and we are fully expecting that it will be again. Bracken expansion continues to be a problem, and the case for controlling it is as strong as ever.
The review is later than usual, due to the complicated times, therefore it is even more important than ever that if you are thinking of having bracken aerially sprayed in 2021 you should plan early.
For those with bracken problems, you will be need to integrate control with your total farm/land strategy. If you are already in an agri environment scheme, you will need to check to see if bracken control if part of that scheme, and if so, which areas and which years are applicable. If you are not in a scheme, you will need to see if there are still any available that might assist with funding for aerial bracken control.
Even without funding from a scheme, bracken control is highly cost effective anyway as control of this pestilence results in:-
Liberation of good grazing land from bracken’s stranglehold: bracken only thrives on the better quality soils.
Avoidance of BPS disallowances.
Better stock management:- i.e. now having areas of “cleaner” pasture on which to move stock around and gathering becomes much easier.
Improved stock health :- fewer sheep ticks, reduction in cancers and general bracken poisoning. Stock tend to graze these recovered drier areas instead of lower wet areas which reduces Liver Fluke and Foot Rot problems.
Improved chance of successful tree planting:- shading from dense bracken reduces sapling growth rate and collapsing fronds can smother young trees.
Improved Environment:- initial stage of harmonious co-existence between grasses and bracken is but brief, bracken seeks to become a monoculture and within very few years achieves just that. It destroys the previous biodiversity by competition for light and nutrients, also by poisoning the soil with powerful toxins (which by the way are highly carcinogenic). Bracken removal invariably results in reinstatement of biodiversity.
Increase in the overall value of the farm which improves the business balance sheet.
Booking the Helicopter
Most bracken infested pasture lies on land that is too steep or inaccessible for any land based treatment in practical terms; indeed, only sheep and hardy upland cattle are able to access much of it. The only cost effective means of dealing with a problem of this magnitude is by the helicopter application of Asulox but the service really must be booked in good time. Indeed timeliness is paramount: trying to book in mid summer is rarely successful. Potential clients are best advised to indicate their bracken control requirements by the end of March in the intended spray year. This will give both the operator and the regulatory bodies who need to be consulted time to consider various environmental issues that may have to be addressed. How these are dealt with will determine whether or not CRD will issue the mandatory Aerial Spray Permit required for each and every job. This can be a lengthy process and failure due to an unexpected late hurdle could mean the Permit will not be received in time for spraying that season. Scheme participants must make clear to their scheme Contract Manager (CM) they wish to treat their bracken by the helicopter application of Asulox and gain approval and the year of work to be agreed. Further, clients wishing to spray (unfunded) areas outside of the scheme also need to clear this with their CM. All the bracken to be treated in that year must be entered on the same map so the Permit application shows the whole task ( clients’ maps are needed as soon as they have determined their areas)
Regretfully, each year a few clients are disappointed because they have simply left it too late for things to be pulled together in spite of best efforts.
Efficacy of Asulox
Asulox is fairly target specific and bracken kill rate is usually around 95/98% as seen in the following year. However, long term control is enhanced by adequate preparation and follow up work.
Strategic land planning and destruction of the dead bracken brash built up over the years.
The brash is best removed by burning as this returns nutrients to the soil, destroys hordes of sheep ticks, and encourages grasses and other desirable species to re establish more quickly. There are regulations covering bracken burning which you will need to comply with.
Should burning not be feasible then either of the following would be reasonably successful:-
Deployment of a ‘Jungle Buster’ or similar where terrain will allow, or
A week or so of ‘mob stocking’ with hay bale segments scattered in the area to cause foraging and trampling.
All these prep works ideally to be completed by end February.
Follow up Work
Most essential element is elimination of all surviving bracken plants emerging in the Spring following the spray year. This can be achieved by:-
Physical means, i.e. rolling/cutting/crushing/whipping off with sticks or another week or so of mob stocking (with adequate hay bale segments as before). This work to be carried out late May whilst bracken stems are in the brittle crozier (fiddlehead) stage.
Spot spraying individual bracken plants when the fronds are fully developed (mid July/August). This is easiest done with a Micronair type single shot applicator rather than a knapsack sprayer (survivor numbers usually low at this stage so reasonably doable). Please note, we will not know until the Emergency Authorisation has been reviewed by the Expert Committee on Pesticides whether ground spraying by any means will be permitted in 2021.
Maintenance of an adequate stocking rate. Anecdotal evidence suggests the cleared areas, being possessed of good soil would, when grass fully recovered, be capable of supporting stocking rates of around 0.4/0.5 livestock units per hectare. This level would be likely to keep any bracken regrowth in check.
Application of appropriate species of grass seed and high phosphate compound fertiliser (to promote root growth); such small amounts as would be required could be ‘hand fiddled’ on. However, although Asulox application itself is not subject to Environment Impact Assessment rulings, this task may be regarded so. Clients pursuing this would be advised to consult their local NRW/NE office; clients’ argument should be that they are not trying to enhance productivity but just wish to get things back to how they were prior to the bracken infestation.
The case for bracken control is as strong as ever, bracken is not going to stand still for as long as global warming/climate change continues!
The most cost effective and least environmentally disruptive methodology available is the helicopter application of Asulox and is the only one capable of delivering a fast enough work rate to combat the growing bracken problem.
Timeliness in booking the service is essential as the procedures and consultations we have to field are now so very time consuming (especially if there are Registered Conservation Sites such as SSSIs etc. in or within 150 metres of bracken target areas).
Please let us know as soon as possible if you are considering aerial spraying of bracken in 2021.
Many thanks to all of you who have used the service in the past, and welcome to those who may do so in the future.
M D Air Services February 2021
M D Air Services continues to support Polo Aviation Ltd. (the spraying operator), and will remain a point of contact for bracken spraying queries, advice and ordering. Polo Aviation Ltd, can also be contacted directly with orders if you wish. Contact details can be found on their website
Please also read ‘A Personal Note‘.