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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Dangerous invasive weed that can cause skin blisters found in children’s playground

A dangerous invasive weed that can cause ‘blistering, life-changing burns’ has been found in a children’s playground. The founder of a local community group has taken it upon themselves to clear the plant, suggesting even if it is there for only a day it’s  ‘one too many’ and is calling on the council to ‘stand up and take responsibility’ to remove it.

Giant Hogweed is a non-native invasive plant that originates from the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia. It first came to the UK as an ornamental in the 19th century, when it escaped and naturalised in the wild. The plant is now an issue throughout the whole of the River Brent, impacting Brent, Ealing, and Barnet.

Ben Morris pulls out hogweed from a playground in Brent in north London, Britain 25 April 2024. Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga

It has caused particular concern amongst some locals after it was recently identified growing in a children’s playground on the Abbey Estate Open Space in Alperton, in Brent. The founder of Clean Up The River Brent (CURB), Ben Morris, called this the ‘ultimate no no’ and dug the weeds up himself after the council failed to take immediate action.

Mr Morris told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “This is a children’s playground here, if a child were to snap a stem of [Giant Hogweed], or come into hard contact with a leaf on their bare skin – within a few hours or possibly the next day – if they’re in sunlight they will start to experience severe sunburn. That’s because the chemical in the plant photo-sensitises your skin and then it’s very difficult to get it off.”

He added: “But there are cases where people have been badly blistered and the wounds haven’t really healed for over a year, it just keeps on coming back. It’s a very serious issue, so to have it in a children’s playground is the ultimate no no.

“I’m really just trying to make the point that we are all in this together and each council, each landowner, each stakeholder needs to play a role in treating this very dangerous, invasive species Giant Hogweed, which can give very nasty burns. I mean blistering, life changing burns.”

Mr Morris said an instant response is ‘the only appropriate one’. He attended the playground last week (25 April) to dig up the weeds in the playground, claiming ‘one day this stuff is here is one day too many’. Even if it had been sprayed that day, Mr Morris told the LDRS that it ‘would still be dangerous for another couple of weeks’.

Hogweed in a playground in Brent in north London, Britain 25 April 2024. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Although humans are uniquely vulnerable to the plant, due to having more exposed skin, other animals, such as dogs, can also be badly affected by it. If a dog makes contact with Hogweed, with either its nose or exposed underbelly, it could have the same photo-sensitive effect and be very serious.

After being alerted to the presence of Hogweed in the playground, Brent Council has put up signage around the playground but the plants have not been removed. Whilst Mr Morris has dug up the plants and left them in piles outside of the playground, it is illegal for him to remove them from the area.

The ward councillor for Alperton, Cllr Anton Georgiou, has been working with residents to raise awareness of the problem and warn them to avoid the plant, particularly those with children or dogs. He called it ‘really disappointing’ that the council hadn’t removed it immediately.

Cllr Georgiou told the LDRS: “Despite Brent Council knowing about the Giant Hogweed problem here on the Abbey Estate Open Space and in the children’s playground, they haven’t taken the immediate action that they need to and it is really disappointing because someone could get hurt.”

Brent Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Infrastructure, and Climate Action, Cllr Krupa Sheth, said: “We are working with a contractor who is going to treat the Hogweed as soon as possible. At the moment we are not able to fence off the area, but we have put up signage alerting residents to avoid the plant and to not touch it. Thank you to the residents who brought this to our attention.”

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