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Volume 124: debated on Friday 18 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what investigations he is undertaking to control bracken; and if he will make a statement.

I would first refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to Lord Campbell of Croy on 5 November in another place. My Department has recently completed a comparison of herbicide application methods on bracken and is presently studying the effects of large-scale bracken control on hillsheep and grouse production, conservation and the landscape. The Department is also funding research by the Agricultural and Food Research Council into vegetation management, weed control and environmental issues, which includes work on bracken. I would also point out that some of my Department's in-house and external research on weed control generally would be applicable to bracken.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what methods for controlling bracken he currently advocates; and if he will make a statement.

Methods advocated for controlling bracken depend on the scale of the problem and the nature of the terrain.

Where cultivation is possible, summer ploughing and subsequent tillage for two seasons can eradicate bracken. Where ploughing is not possible mechanical methods such as cutting or slashing twice a year or repeatedly crushing young fronds for several years will control but not eradicate bracken. These methods are useful in only limited circumstances.

The most popular method advocated is the use of herbicides. These can be applied to small areas by knapsack and other hand-held applicators. Tractor-mounted sprayers can be used on areas that are not too steep or rocky. Larger areas, especially if steep or uneven, are normally sprayed by helicopter.

Grant aid is available for bracken control under the agricultural improvement scheme. This covers control by mechanical means (excluding ploughing and cultivating), chemical control by spraying, and follow-up treatment to promote the growth of other vegetation and discourage further bracken growth. The rate of grant is 15 per cent. in the lowlands and 30 per cent. in less favoured areas.