We were saddened to read recently of two young boys who required hospital treatment for burns; having come into contact with giant hogweed in a country park in Bolton. Unfortunately, their plight is not unique . Our Invasive Plants team regularly speak to home and land owners who are unaware that Giant Hogweed is growing on their properties and of the dangers it poses to both human and animal health.
So what is Giant Hogweed?
Giant Hogweed is a highly toxic invasive plant containing a sap found in all sections of the plant which photosensitises the skin – leading to severe blistering, burns and in worst case scenarios blindness. The chemical reaction is set in motion when the contaminated area of skin is exposed to sunlight or UV rays, and lasts for several years.
How do I know if I’ve come into contact with Giant Hogweed?
The first sign of possible contact with the toxic sap is reddening and itching of the skin. Within 48 hours watery blisters can begin to form on the affected skin. After a few weeks the skin will darken and leave a scarred area which is highly sensitive to UV rays for many years.
If you fear you may have come into contact with the toxic sap:
- Wash the exposed skin carefully with soap and water as soon as possible,
- Cover the skin and prevent sunlight getting to the area,
- Seek medical assistance,
- In the future sensitive areas should have sun cream applied.
Giant Hogweed was introduced into the UK in the 19th century as an ornamental plant. It is commonly found growing along water courses, areas of waste land, railways, roads and country parks. It is a very distinctive plant reaching 5m in height with hollow blotchy purple stems 5-10cm in diameter with sharp bristles, dark green leaves reaching 3m in diameter with the underside being hairy and umbrella shaped white flowers producing around 50,000 seeds in its second year of life.
You may find our Giant Hogweed Quick Identification Guide useful to help with identification throughout the seasons.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife and Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 states that it is illegal to plant or otherwise cause Giant Hogweed to grow in the wild in the UK. It is not illegal to have Giant Hogweed growing on your land – however allowing it to spread onto neighbouring properties is.
What to do if you think you have Giant Hogweed?
As soon as you can, block off or restrict access to the area of suspected Giant hogweed and let anyone who may come into contact with it know. Giant hogweed needs to be treated and disposed of by professionals – we will be happy to help, please get in touch!
Posted by Mark