‘Wooly warriors’ could be used to solve giant hogweed problem

Sheep have been on the frontline in the fight against giant hogweed in Scotland  (NatureScot)
Sheep have been on the frontline in the fight against giant hogweed in Scotland (NatureScot)

Their mission has been to eat a lot of weeds and sheep responded to their call of duty with enthusiasm.

Since 2019 the so-called ‘wooly warriors’ have been on the front line of Scotland’s fight against highly invasive hoghweed, which has been infesting rivers and quickly spreading.

Wildlife organisation NatureScot received lottery funding to deploy the sheep to sections of the River Deveron, in the north east of the country, as part of the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative.

And now, at the review stage after their four year trial, it has been announced their hard efforts have paid off with the harmful non-native plant no longer spreading as freely.

Dan Gordon, landowner of the Macduff trial site, said: “It’s amazing to see the progress made over the last four years.

“The giant hogweed was completely dominating the woodland and would have been really tricky and costly to deal with using pesticides.”

Giant hogweed can produce 20-50,000 seeds which can live for up to 10 years, which makes it quick to multiply, but it contains a phytotoxic sap which can burn human hands when touched.

Spraying pesticides and cutting off heads can stop the spread but it is time consuming and it can be tricky to get to access plants in Scottish terrain.

But sheep are immune to the sap and even enjoy the taste of hogweed which can make them the perfect weapon in fighting the plant. The health of the sheep has also been monitored.

Project manager Callum Sinclair said: “We are delighted to share this management guidance and hope it will help to inform and encourage others interested in using sheep grazing as a sustainable, long-term method of giant hogweed control.

“We’d especially like to thank Dan Gordon from Kirkside Farm and our colleagues at the University of Aberdeen for their commitment, hard work and support on this project at Macduff.”