Bracken control

Bracken and intractable weeds: control and habitat restoration

Bracken is one of the world’s most intractable weeds. In Britain it infests more than 17,000km2 to some degree and 122,00km of linear features like roads, tacks and canals. Bracken dominates and eliminates most other plant species, reducing biodiversity and causing problems for agriculture, forestry, conservation and sporting pursuits. Research from the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences provides approved guidance for its control and the regeneration of more useful habitats.

The challenge

Bracken is a very challenging weed to control for a number of reasons. It is an ‘Iceberg’ plant: the green part we see is only 10% of the plant and the majority is hidden underground. It also produces a deep litter layer that stops other vegetation growing. Hence, to provide effective control a long-term approach is required that reduces the underground part of the bracken and reduces the litter layer so that other plants can grow.

Research action

Professor Rob Marrs and colleagues at Liverpool used a series of approaches to develop national bracken control strategies. Large-scale countrywide surveys revealed the extent of bracken control regularly completed by land managers. Nation-wide and long-term experiments combined treatments to control bracken and restore appropriate new habitat. Ecological modelling analysed and synthesized data to translate findings into practical advice and guidance to pass onto practitioners.

Working in partnership

The work was funded by MAFF/DEFRA so was end-user focused at the outset, working in partnership with researchers at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and many land managers across Great Britain. Other collaborators included the Heather Trust, the Bracken Control Group and company UPL Europe Ltd, who manufacture one of the main herbicides used for bracken control.

Outputs and outcomes

Marrs’ team used their combined knowledge to produce guidance that is available to end users – land managers tackling bracken – via the statutory agencies responsible for nature conservation and the funding and implementation of agri-environment schemes.

If bracken control is implemented is under advice from a statutory agency or under an agri-environment scheme then the end-user must follow good-practice guidelines. These include: statutory agencies (who must provide good practice advice on bracken control); estate managers, land agents and farmers (who wish to control bracken and restore a more useful habitat); aerial spraying contractors (who derive some of their income from bracken control).

The guidelines are available for England, Scottish Natural Heritage, and in Wales, where the advice is to access the Bracken Control Group’s website which directs them to relevant guidelines.

A series of practical approaches developed national bracken control strategies, working in partnership with stakeholders and land managers across Great Britain.

Professor Rob Marrs