Call for NIO action on ‘countryside blights’

Giant Hogweed which Robin Swann MLA says is "a blight on our countryside". (Submitted Picture).

Giant Hogweed which Robin Swann MLA says is "a blight on our countryside". (Submitted Picture).

Local Assemblyman Robin Swann is calling for action from Stormont to combat the threats posed by Hogweed and Japanese Knot Weed.

Mr Swann has appealed to the Stormont Executive to support proposals for a Private Members Bill to tackle the two prolific non-native plant species which he describes as “blights on our countryside”.

The Ulster Unionist Assemblyman stated: “Touching Giant Hogweed can in some cases cause long-term sunlight sensitivity and even blindness if sap gets into a person’s eye.

“The light-sensitive skin reaction causes dark painful blisters that form within 48 hours, and result in scars that can last anywhere from a few months to six years, and is extremely dangerous to all ages but especially children.

“As for Japanese Knotweed, it is established in the wild in many parts of the country and creates problems due to the impact on biodiversity, flooding management and damage to property,” said Mr Swann, who is a current member of the Stormont Agriculture Committee.

He continued: “The current responsibility in Northern Ireland rests with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and its role is limited to the provision of advice and guidance on the management of the plant as they are both designated a non-native species.

Mr Swann added: “The only legal directive they give is that it is an offence to cause to grow in the wild or release or allow to escape into the wild any non-native species.

“However in Scotland, under its Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, it actually includes provisions to control or eradicate invasive alien species and these provisions make it possible to compel landowners or occupiers to carry out control or eradication operations, or allow them to be carried out by the issuing authority.

“That is why I am currently exploring options as to how we could replicate the Scottish Government’s legislative stance here in Northern Ireland as I am in no doubt that legislation is required to compel landowners, who in many occasions are actually Statutory Agencies or Government Departments, to take effective and pro-active action to remove these two blights to our countryside,” said Assemblyman Swann.