Toxic hogweed is ‘rampant’ in West Sussex

Giant Hogweed at Loxwood
Giant Hogweed at Loxwood

IT’S been called a ‘flesh eating triffid’ and it’s on the rampage this summer in West Sussex.

It’s been spotted at Iping Bridge, outside Haslemere and is rampant at Loxwood.

Several people have suffered severe burns from contact with the plant across the country recently and now there are new warnings to steer clear of giant hogweed with its toxic sap.

Jessica Price, conservation officer with the Sussex Wildlife Trust is appealing for people to report sightings of the monster to help experts track and destroy it.

“One of the problems is we don’t know exactly how much there is, but we do know that on the Arun and its streams there are hundreds of kilometres of it.”

Another problem is that seeds can die dormant for as long as eight years and get washed down rivers and germinate.

She urged people to help identify areas of growth through an Environment Agency App called ‘plant tracker’.

But she warned: “Finding out where it is, is only the first step. There is no public money to help eradicate giant hogweed, it’s up to landowners.”

In the Loxwood area the Sussex Wildlife Trust is running a project called Arun and Rother Connections (ARC) and working with the RSPB and the Environment Agency to eradicate the menace.

It starts off looking very similar to Cow Parsley but it grows massive woody stems, foliage and flower heads. It can grow as high as five metres with flower heads 80 centimetres wide.

“But there are differences,” said Jessica, “it often has purplish blotches and the stem grows very thick and woody.”

“It stops native plants from growing and destroys river habitats making river banks very unstable and it’s generally a problem for everything around it.”

She said its toxic sap reacted with skin when it was touched and wiped out the skin’s protection against the sun and it was the sun’s rays that then caused severe burning.

“The best thing to do if you touch it is to cover the affected skin up straight away so the sun can’t burn.”

Rudgwick Angling Society member Gerald Wheeler said it was the worst year he could remember for giant hogweed along the River Arun: “It’s gone rampant.”

Conservationists began a clearance programme, last week starting at Roman Gate and working north along the river towards Horsham.

But he said he knew of no reports of injuries from the plant in the area.

At Loxwood it is growing 12 to 15 feet high in great walls close to the Lox River bank.

Rob Searle spokesman for the Wey and Arun Canal Trust said: “There are small patches of it along the canal itself and where the land is the responsibility of the trust, our policy is to jump on the problem straight away.”

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