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Managing a giant

The Giant Hogweed on the Auldearn Burn used to be a noticeable feature on your drive along the A96 heading out of Nairn. However due to the commitment of the riparian owners along the burn and its tributaries Giant Hogweed has been cleared from nearly half of the catchment and the remaining area has very few of these plants. This does go to show that concerted management over a number of years can get rid of this invasive species that shades out native vegetation and whose sap can cause nasty blisters and recurring photosensitivity on the skin.
 
In 2006 a meeting of various interested parties was convened in Nairn and the outline of a control programme paid for by the riparian landowners was agreed. Craig Forster of Bowlts kindly agreed to draft the agreement and contact the owners in his own time. The plants were sprayed in the Spring by a single contractor who covered the whole of the catchment. After 6 years of control there are now few plants in the catchment and these are sprayed before flowering so any new plants grow from dormant seeds, which can persist for 7 years. As there are fewer plants to spray, the ground can be covered more quickly reducing the costs that the landowner has to pay.
The native vegetation has recovered from the shading out from the dense stands of Giant Hogweed and many wildflowers now grace the banks of the burn.
 
The Auldearn Burn is a very small catchment so the cost and time taken to control Giant Hogweed meant that it was very “do-able” allied with the willingness of the riparian owners to pay for the spraying this allowed the project to move ahead successfully. SNH and Highland Council have provided funding for Bowlts to oversee the project.
 
The success of the project led to the project being expanded to the Littlemill Burn in Munlochy. The same protocol was followed with the area of Giant Hogweed mapped to its furthest upstream extent; the owners contacted and asked to pay for the spraying on their land. The Munlochy project has been underway since 2010 and has greatly reduced the number of plants in this catchment and it is hoped by 2020 Giant Hogweed will have been eradicated from both catchments. This will benefit both the landowners and biodiversity.
 
The much larger catchment of the River Nairn still has large areas of Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed; these have been under control since 2012 by the Findhorn, Nairn and Lossie Fisheries Trust. The control effort is taking place in the catchment above Nairn itself and once the plants are well under control there the work will move downstream into the town. Controlling large areas of invasive plants species takes time and money but the examples of Auldearn and Munlochy show that methodical and persistent management can deliver results and is value for money.
 
It is not just plants but an invasive animal species is also in check. The American Mink has been eradicated as a breeding species from the northern Highlands but further funding is required to eradicate it from the southern part of Highland and this hasn’t been secured yet.
 
The warming climate of the last 20 years has meant that some localised invasive species have started to spread. An example is Gunnera (Giant or Spiny Rhubarb) once a species that struggled to make it through the Highland winter and is now spreading along roads in the Western Isles and in Skye and Lochaber. By controlling the localised populations of Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam, Rhododendron and Japanese Knotweed (and Gunnera) we are saving money in the long term as control work in five or ten years time is going to be vastly more expensive.
 
These invasive plant species shade out our native plants, dominating larges areas of vegetation and can also impede access along paths. So control of them will directly benefit us.

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