SCOTTISH heather is under threat by new EU rules – designed to protect Italian spinach.
Brussels officials have banned the use of the herbicide Asulam, which gamekeepers use to stop bracken spreading and destroying the moorland.
It’s feared that without the chemical the vivid purple plant could be killed off as bracken spreads unimpeded.
Asulam, which is often spread from helicopters, will be banned across Europe from December 31 and its use must be phased out completely within a year.
The ban has been imposed by the EU’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health because it is toxic when used on food. In the past it has been used on Italian spinach farms to control weeds.
The Heather Trust, a charity which promotes moorland management across the UK, said landowners should order Asulam before the end of the year. So they could at least use it during the phasing out period.
Director Simon Thorpe said: “They’re not allowed to buy it or transport it after the end of this year.
“They need to buy it soon, and have it delivered before the end of the year.
“And they have to be rid of it by the end of next year.
“The great advantage of Asulam is that it’s selective, it only takes out the bracken.
“And it’s the only herbicide that can be delivered by helicopter, which is important on rough land.”
Scot MEP Alyn Smith said that the company behind the chemical, United Phosphorus Limited, had not responded to any of his correspondence.
He said: “I am even more frustrated that I have to repeat the advice I gave the company by letter back in early April
“Advice they not only did not take but did not even see fit to respond to.
“For a herbicide which is so widely used by our farmers and land managers to control the spread of bracken, questions must be asked as to why United Phosphorus Limited, as the sole notifier for this product, relied upon a scientific assessment for Asulam based on its use on spinach.
“Not least when the European Food Safety Agency has raised serious concerns with that dossier.
“We now need the UK authorities to seek, win and then extend an emergency authorisation to tide us over until a proper authorisation can be made.
“Otherwise, when the next season for bracken clearing begins, our farmers will find themselves without a key tool in their belt.
“If UPL decide to resubmit Asulam for assessment now, I’d be confident we will see it still in use either under a temporary authorisation or the proper authorisation they should have applied for in the first place.”