Who Would Live In Marsh Like This?

I thought I'd just share a bit of a comical experience I had whilst working this week. I was on an RSPB nature reserve spraying an invasive species called Giant Hogweed. Its a particularly nasty plant, it spreads and takes over entire areas very quickly and the stem and leaves contain a horrible phototoxin which causes burns that can last for years and scar for life.

As weird as it sounds the sap from the plant causes phytophotodermatitis, which basically means it causes chemical burns so bad that it damages the DNA in the victim's skin causing the wound to 'reactivate' when exposed to sunlight. Horrific stuff! Its understandable why a conservation charity would accept the use of pesticides on their land in this particular circumstance, particularly along the pathways.

Some of the materials they'd used for a makeshift shelter
in amongst the Hogweed.
What was funny though was when we became aware of the remains of camp that had been set up by illegal immigrants that had Giant Hogweed all around where they had been sleeping. It seems that they had jumped out of a lorry on the slip road bordering the nature reserve, and stayed within a few hundred yards for the duration of the winter. In their defence the conditions they'd been living in were pretty horrific, I don't know why anyone would put themselves through such an awful experience. I doubt the shit hole bed-sit they're going to receive from the tax payer will end up worth it. With a little bit of luck the Giant Hogweed burns they likely endured will be a constant reminder to them that nobody, not even the local invasive flora, ever wanted them here.

Previous year's stem, note the large 'umbrella'
and freakishly thick stem.
Fortunately for those of you who want to avoid severe toxic burns, Giant Hogweed is relatively easy to spot once you know what you're looking for. It belongs to a family of plants known as Apiaceae that includes a wide range of well known herbs and plants from the edible Parsley, Carrot and Fennel to the not so edible Hemlock. Being a biennial plant, new growth generally comes out from around the base of the previous year's dried up stalks making identification very easy even in early spring as the new lush green plants emerge.

When fully grown it can stand at over two metres tall, appears 'umbrella' like and possesses a pretty hefty three to four inch thick stem at its base. Obviously if you're ever going to handle this plant you will need gloves and full body protection including for your eyes and face. Do not fuck about with this plant!


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