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Friday, July 17, 2015

Poisonous weeds growing near Llan, claims councillor

See responses at foot of story

* Cllr Davies' picture of what he says is Giant Hogweed growing in
the hedgerows on the Round the Valley road in Llangollen.

A COUNTY councillor has blamed “silly” biodiversity for what he believes is a poisonous plant being able to grow in the countryside around Llangollen and which he claims is putting at risk cyclists in a major downhill race.

Stuart Davies, who represents the area on Denbighshire County Council, says he has grave concerns about the lack of verge cutting in and around Llangollen.

He said: “I have been receiving complaints about overgrown verges on side roads and I’ve found that biodiversity is the reason.
“Unelected bodies are interfering in our lives and officers are not being allowed to cut the verges until late July because of advice from these bodies.

“However, the effect of this is that side-roads such as the Round the Valley road in Llangollen have been reduced to a single lane.”
“I drove along there recently on a fact-finding mission and the overgrowth was so bad that I had to reverse for half a mile to allow a van to come through due to the passing places being overgrown

“Not only that but the overgrowth was infested with nettles and Giant Hogweed.
“The Giant Hogweed is the plant that was in the national news last week as the cause of that poor little girl’s burned hands.”

He added: “A major international downhill cycle race is taking place there at the end of the month, and competitors and spectators will have difficulty accessing the site because of the overgrowth.
“On top of this there is the danger that cyclists will brush against the poisonous weeds and suffer severe burns.

“I have spoken with county highway officers and have told them that the overgrown verges must be cut immediately.

"In the long term I am going to take this matter to scrutiny committee and make sure that these silly biodiversity issues do not impact and do not harm the majority of people who live here in Llangollen.”
A county council spokesperson said: “This is something of a perennial problem that is hotly debated in the council and communities on a fairly frequent basis.

“It is a situation where both sides of the argument are equally valid, backed up by equally balanced legislation between the need for highway safety and the need to encourage biodiversity in our rural areas.
“It is a matter councillors have discussed and debated at length through full council, at cabinet and scrutiny in order to arrive at a suitable compromise and we are aiming to cut the verges in accordance with what councillors have agreed.

“I can confirm that the verges will be cut in time for the downhill bike race.”

* Response from a llanblogger reader to this story ...

I am writing about the above article that appeared on the Llanblogger on 16/07/15 quoting Councillor Stuart Davies for blaming '''silly” biodiversity for what he believes is a poisonous plant being able to grow in the countryside around Llangollen and which he claims is putting at risk cyclists in a major downhill race.'  I would like to respond to this article:
I have lived on the edge of the ‘Round the Valley road’ or Pengwern Vale for 7 ½ years and regularly pass along the road either on foot or by car.  I know the location of the photo taken by Mr Davies and have visited the site this evening.  I can categorically state that the plant he is referring to is the native/ ‘common’ Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium found throughout the British Isles.  Rather than being the related non-native poisonous plant Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, the common Hogweed is indeed edible: in Richard Mabey’s book ‘Food for Free’ it is described: ‘Cooked like asparagus, the young shoots are marvellously fleshy’.  I am an ecologist (with a Masters degree in Vegetation Survey and Assessment) with over 15 years of experience: I can state that I do not know anywhere along Pengwern Vale, or indeed in Llangollen, where Giant Hogweed grows (I am of course happy to be corrected on this if any readers of Llanblogger know otherwise!).  I would suggest to Mr Davies that he checks his facts thoroughly before writing such a provocative article. 
I would like to point out another inaccuracy in the article.  He refers to the ‘Round the Valley Road’ being ‘reduced to a single lane’ by uncut road verges: I would suggest that this has nothing to do with the state of the verges, but rather that the carriageway provides a single lane, full stop; there are passing areas stationed every so often as is the case on other such minor roads across the country. 
I would also like to address what I consider to be the broader, and more worrying, tone of his comments: that biodiversity is ‘silly’ and that he will take this matter to the scrutiny committee ‘and make sure that these silly biodiversity issues do not impact and do not harm the majority of people who live here in Llangollen’.  Llangollen is a rural town situated in one of the most picturesque locations in the country of which the majority of residents are rightly proud.  It is also in an AONB, the website of which states that it embraces ‘some of the UKs most wonderful landscapes’.  In my view, biodiversity, far from being ‘silly’, is a key component of the landscape and it is something I am sure that the vast majority of people in Llangollen value and cherish.  Furthermore it is critical for the health and sustainability of future generations, something I am sure Mr Davies has a keen interest in, that biodiversity is considered to be important and of value to society.  As a councillor Mr Davies could play a key role in educating the Council and the wider public with this message to ensure that this resource is retained for future generations. 
I would implore Mr Davies, and his fellow councillors, to look at the website and campaign of ‘Plantlife’ (the national wild plant charity) on rural road verges:  This states the following: ‘Rural road verges are a vital refuge for wild flowers driven out of our farmland.  In turn, wild flowers support our birds, bees and other wildlife.  We want to see road verges managed better whilst remaining safe for motorists.  Not only can it be done – it could save money as well...’  In these days of austerity is cutting road verges, particularly on rural roads like Pengwern Vale, such a high priority, particularly where poisonous plants don’t exist?!?  Mr Davies might also wish to ask himself whether he likes honey??....if we continue to lose our ‘wild habitats’ at the same pace as today and/ or continue to mismanage them, many of life’s pleasure that they sustain (such as honey), or directly provide, may in the future be only learnt about in history lessons. 
Max Ellson

Further response from Gill Thomas ...

Although common hogweed has traditionally been used as food and is not as dangerous as giant hogweed, it still contains a furano-coumarin which can cause blisters and skin pigmentation when the sap comes in contact with the skin, which is then exposed to sunlight. To avoid this problem, the advice is to wash the skin immediately with soap and water and avoid exposure to sunlight for several days. To get this into perspective, common hogweed abounds in the Llangollen area, including my own garden and I have never experienced a problem with it, but anyone attempting to remove the plants should wear gloves and eye protection. This advice goes for many plants we might come in contact with. People may be interested in an article on the subject in next month’s Llangollen News.
Further response from Max Ellson ... 

Firstly I sincerely hope that this useful discussion does not distract from the central premise of my response to Mr Davies’s article: I passionately believe that wild plants and biodiversity in general need to be stood up for more often as they provide vital services for the well being of our planet, as well as enriching people’s lives.  Referring to biodiversity as ‘silly’ is inappropriate, disrespectful and should not be considered acceptable language in 2015. 

Further to Gill Thomas's informative response however I accept that common Hogweed does contain a furano-coumarin in its sap.  It is widely accepted however that this plant cannot be considered to be dangerous to any of the same degree as the related Giant Hogweed.  The following link provides a very useful and informed summary on the issue:, which I would urge people to read.  It starts off by stating that 'Common Hogweed is not poisonous'.  There are also many websites (e.g. extolling its culinary uses. 
I think it is fair to suggest that some people can be allergic to common Hogweed in certain situations/ if handled incorrectly, just as they can with even Celery or Parsnips which are in the same plant family.  The first cited web-article concludes by stating that 'Common hogweed is variable in sap phototoxicity with the most cases of phytophototoxicity reports coming from people who have attacked it with a strimmer’ and further that ‘Even strimming nettles can result in minor burn spots with semi-permanent staining.  As with Gill, I have never experienced any problems with common Hogweed; nor do I know anyone who has.  I look forward to Gill’s forthcoming article on this subject with interest.   

Finally, as Giant Hogweed is not present along Pengwern Vale, road users (including walkers and cyclists) should have very little to be concerned about if the road verges were managed for the benefit of biodiversity, as would be the case for the vast majority of roads in the British Isles. 

1 comment:

  1. Think this is not Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum but a less dangerous member of the family H. sphondylium.