08 June 2017

Northern Ireland angler's Giant hogweed blister agony .                                                                                                                                                  A fisherman has issued an alert after suffering painful, blistering skin when he came in contact with sap from wild growing giant hogweed while on the Moyola River.

Giant hogweed is spreading rapidly across the UK. It can grow up to five metres tall, often along footpaths and riverbanks. If its sap comes in contact with flesh, it can cause severe burns and make skin sensitive to sunlight                                                                                                            That is what happened to 61-year-old Tommy McGrath near Castledawson.

Tommy and fellow members of the local fishing club have been dealing with the invasive plant for several years in a bid to protect the public and children who may not know of its effects.Last weekend Mr McGrath had noticed three of the plants.                                                                             Although he made sure he was fully covered up before tackling them, he hadn't realised the sap had penetrated his protection until later that night when blisters started to appear on his skin.                  He said: "When Saturday night came I started to swell up and go all red and then blisters started."    He explained the discomfort got worse as the days went on. "It was really horrendous. It was painful, you couldn't touch it, it was very itchy and every part of my arm was blistered," he said.

"Apparently what happens is you don't notice it touching you and it can stay in your system for a long while. It just goes mad. It's like burning.                                                                                                                                      "I was working at it (the hogweed) for a long time and could have sworn I didn't touch it." Mr McGrath said people needed to be made aware of giant hogweed in order to avoid it, and called on the authorities to take responsibility for removing it.                                                                                                                                             He added: "They grow up among the vegetation and are about 4ft high. You need to know what it looks like.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "The seeds are on top and apparently they can have at least 20,000 on there, and when they get to a certain stage they fall off."It then spreads far and wide.

Mr McGrath said it was not unique to the Mid Ulster area and that a lot of local rivers would have it.He said he was worried for his grandchildren, as it grows in an old derelict house beside his home.                                                                                                                                       He takes people out fishing and is concerned they could get infected by the plant.

He said: "If anything happened to them, where would I stand?                                                        "They (the agencies) need to take a bit of responsibility. We can't get them all, and you don't realise it's there until the big flower grows. You need professional people to do it. But no one will claim responsibility for it."

The local council and the Rivers Agency said it fell outside their remit.                                                                                                                                         A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said it is an offence to plant or grow Giant Hogweed in the wild, but it is not illegal for a landowner to have these species growing on their land.

Control of such species are wholly the responsibility of the landowner," they said.

"The Department does not manage such species on land outside their ownership."

They added that there is no means of forcing a landowner to control Giant Hogweed, or to allow others to do so without the owner or occupier's consent."