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Achill communities urged to deal with Gunnera spread

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ALIEN PLANTS Gunnera, an invasive species, being cleared from an area at Kildownet, Achill, by volunteers in 2010. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin


Anton McNulty

Communities on Achill Island have been urged to start controlling the spread of evasive plants such as Gunnera before a ban on certain chemical sprays is introduced.
Gunnera tinctoria, or wild giant rhubarb, along with the Japanese Knotweed, have become a scourge to many Mayo communities due to their rapid growth.
Gunnera has taken over large tracts of land, particularly on Achill. A study by UCD academics in 2009 found that approximately 250 acres of the island was covered in the plant, and it is likely to have increased since then.
To try to rid his home village of Shraheens, Achill, from Gunnera, Thomas McLoughlin, a microbiologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, formed a group to help control and eradicate invasive species from the area.
The group was formed in 2015, and they have sprayed up to six acres in the village and helped control the spread of the plant in fields previously covered.
However, with certain herbicides, such as Round-Up (proven to control Gunnera), expected to be taken off the market, Mr McLoughlin feels communities should start spraying the plant with the weed killer now.
“Round-up is proven to kill the Gunnera … if that goes, I am not sure what will happen in the future. I would encourage people to go out and use it while you can, but to also to be cognisant of the environment,” he said.
A controversial product, Round-Up contains glyphosate, which health studies have determined to be ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. It was due to be removed from the shelves, but a last-minute reprieve in June gave it an 18-month extension until a new ruling on its safety is provided by the European Chemical Agency is made. This ruling should be issued by the end of 2017.

Impact
McLoughlin feels that the alien plants are having a negative affect on the biodiversity of the area. His small team have been granted access to private lands to spray, he is happy with the progress they are making.
“We sprayed one field, which is known as Harry’s field, and the Gunnera was so big it was impossible to spray it all with knapsacks. It was so thick the tractor had difficulty getting through it, but this year there is no problem driving on the field.
“We have sprayed six acres, which I think is a good showing for one village. I would love to see other villages do it because it would make a huge difference to not just upper Achill but to the whole island. You have to keep spraying it every year, or it will come back and that’s why we need planning for the future,” he said.
He added that he would like to get help from various state agencies and Mayo County Council to control the alien plants and hopes that in the future people in local employment schemes will also get involved.