Use of Asulox for bracken control

Risks outweigh the potential benefits.

A herbicide previously used to control bracken on farms in Scotland, will not be authorised for use this season because of the risks it poses to the environment and human health. The same decision has been taken in Wales.

For the past 10 years Asulox has been approved annually as part of an emergency authorisation process on behalf of the UK administrations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). However, this year HSE considers that, for the first time, the use of the herbicide does not meet the legislative requirements for emergency authorisation.

Scottish Ministers have confirmed to HSE that they agree to the recommendation to refuse the 2023 emergency authorisation application for the use of Asulox for control of bracken. This follows existing precedent for decisions over pesticide approvals for Scotland being exercised on behalf of Scottish Ministers by HSE.  On the evidence set out, Scottish Ministers did not consider there was any basis to not follow the HSE recommendation and process.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:

“The Scottish Government is acutely aware of the risks associated with uncontrolled bracken and did not take this decision lightly, basing our position on scientific evidence.

“The Health and Safety Executive advice to all four nations of the UK was not to authorise the use of Asulox because of the risks it poses human, animal and environmental health. Independent advice from the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Expert Committee on Pesticides supported this conclusion, and the Welsh Government have confirmed that they too will follow the HSE advice. The Scottish Government is committed to science based decision making, and we have followed the same, well established and evidence based process we always follow for the authorisation of chemicals.

“This decision will protect our natural environment and water resources, but while Asulox is only used on 2% of bracken in Scotland, we know that this will be challenging for those who hoped to use the herbicide this year. I therefore want to emphasise that support for bracken control through the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) continues for 2023. Contracts for chemical and mechanical bracken control have been issued from the 2022 round of AECS which commence in 2023. Where contract holders had intended to undertake chemical control, we will offer flexibility to allow mechanical or manual activity. We are also taking forward further research on bracken control options and its impacts, and I look forward to engaging with stakeholders as part of a roundtable in the coming months to discuss this important issue.”

Professor Mathew Williams, the Scottish Government’s Chief Science Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture said:

"It is very important to make evidence based decisions and after considering the evidence, my recommendation is to follow HSE’s advice and refuse emergency authorisation of Asulox for bracken control.”


Use of Asulox for bracken control in Scotland in 2023 | SASA (Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture)

In addition to considering the regulatory recommendation, Scottish Ministers commissioned a rapid evidence review, conducted by the James Hutton Institute, to give wider context on the implications of not controlling bracken with asulam in Scotland. Scottish Ministers also sought advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP), who provide independent, impartial advice to the UK governments on the science relating to pesticides.

The ECP agreed with the HSE position that the potential adverse effects of Asulox use outweigh the potential benefits of controlling the danger posed by bracken. 

Professor Mathew Williams, the Scottish Government’s Chief Science Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture also considered the available evidence base, including the regulatory assessment, and agreed with the HSE position that the authorisation should not be granted, providing a number of recommendations to support research and better risk characterisation.


Media enquiries

Back to top