Northern Ireland

Central Asian plant weeds its way into east Belfast

Image caption Giant Hogweed can cause long-term skin damage to humans

A dangerous plant species has been found alive and well in east Belfast.

An invasion of the Giant Hogweed was located in the vicinity of the Danny Blanchflower Stadium and Sydenham By-Pass.

Environmental health officers from Belfast City Council are working with Roads Service staff to treat the invasive and potentially dangerous plant species, whose sap can cause skin irritation.

The treatment will take several days for the chemicals to take effect.

Local Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle became aware of the "nuisance" weeds after he was contacted by local residents, who were concerned at the extent of the problem.

"Giant Hogweed is not an issue I hear about every day.

"I have learnt that it is a problem that we do need to deal with," he said.

"The Roads Service and the City council response has been prompt and effective.

'Successful'

"They're getting on top of things and the public don't need to be unduly concerned."

Orla Maguire is a Biodiversity officer at Belfast City Council and is involved in the operation to remove the Giant Hogweed.

"It is not so much that it's difficult to get rid off, the problem is, it is very successful," she said.

"Each plant can produce 20-50,000 seeds, so if it gets to a stage where it is allowed to seed and allowed to happen over a number of years, you are going to get a build up of seeds in the soil, a seed bank.

Image caption Staff from Belfast City Council spray the invasive and potentially dangerous Giant Hogweed

"These can be viable for up to seven years, other people say up to 15, the problem is when you have the large seed banks."

It is the world's largest weed and originates in Central Asia.

It can reach up to 3.65m (12ft) in height and has leaves 91cm (36in) long.

They spread only by seed, but each individual can bear up to 80,000 seeds, making them very successful propagators.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to plant Giant Hogweed or to cause it to grow.

Andrew Hawlstead from the Royal Horticultural Society explained how the plant from Asia ended up on these shores.

"Originally it was introduced as a garden plant and then people realised what a thug it is in the garden and how it spreads rapidly by seed.

'Blisters'

"It produces these giant plants which shade out native vegetation plus you have the added problem of the irritant sap, so these days it is illegal to allow it to be planted.

"It is a weed which needs eradicated."

He also warned people against touching the plant.

"The problem with this plant is the sap, if you get the sap on your skin and it is unexposed to bright sunlight, it makes the skin come up in very painful blisters and can cause quite prolonged discolouration of the skin."