Blog: Dealing with giant hogweed – “the most dangerous plant in Britain”

Greig Adams
Greig Adams

By Greig Adams at DM Hall

A recent court case involving the severe burns a small boy received from a giant hogweed plant at a holiday park in Wales highlights the dangers of these plants for property owners.

Described as “the UK’s most dangerous plant” by a rivers and estuaries expert, giant hogweed is an invasive species closely related to cow parsley which is most commonly found near rivers and canals.

The problem arises from toxic sap, containing chemicals known as furanocoumarins, which can be emitted by the white flowering weed from its leaves, stems, roots, flowers and seeds.

This increases the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, often resulting in burns that can last for several months. Some people have reported that the affected area of skin remains sensitive to light for some years afterwards. Blindness, too, can result if the sap comes in contact with the eyes.

Giant hogweed, which can grow up to six metres high, was brought to Britain in the 19th Century as an ornamental species. Its white umbrella-shaped flower head has leaves of up to 1.5 metres wide.

With an ability to produce up to 50,000 seeds a year, the weed is a regular presence throughout the UK and is especially evident in the summer months though it remains a health threat all year round. The Welsh holiday park case is only one of a recent spate of incidents involving individuals, typically children, being severely affected by the plant.

Recent legal cases have arisen from the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act which make it an offence to plant or cause hogweed to grow, in the wild, and if it is found that the land owner or local authority has failed to take appropriate action to protect the public.

The message to home owners, land owners and local authority officials is loud and clear: if there is giant hogweed on your property it needs to be identified and eradicated before anyone gets hurt.

Like its pestilential cousin, Japanese knotweed, it is best removed by specialist contractors who have experience in making it just go away. A quick perusal of the Internet should put you in touch with eradication experts in your area.


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