I often walk down the canal towpath on my lunch hour – it’s a lovely bracing, nature-filled, green break in what otherwise could be a grey day of computer screens. I’ve been up-close to herons, lapwings, rabbits, deer, and a stoat as well as the cows, longhorn cattle and sheep in the farmers’ fields along the banks.
The other day I saw something I had never seen before – a woman carrying a huge Giant hogweed seed head with her along the canal.
As she approached, I politely said, “Excuse me, just so you know…” to which she responded, “I know, but it’s safe once it’s dried out” and carried on past me.
For those of you who don’t know, the sap of the Giant hogweed plant can damage the skin, making it extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light – resulting in serious burns. While the woman may be correct, I certainly wouldn’t fancy it in in my house, nor would I want to go into infested areas to break off and pick up bits of the plant.
There’s another issue, too, which is that Giant hogweed is covered by legislation including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to cause or allow the plant to spread in the wild.
While Giant hogweed seeds are generally very easily dislodged from the plant and it’s unlikely that the seed head she was carrying had any seeds remaining on it, it’s possible that there were remaining seeds that could have fallen off as she walked back, or that her clothes or footwear could have picked up seeds in the area she picked the seed head from, causing new growth next to a busy footpath – causing a significant potential for other footpath users to be exposed to the dangerous sap – or in her own property, potentially resulting in significant costs for remediation. It’s unlikely but potentially possible that her actions would constitute a criminal offence, just like digital piracy or murder.
While this is obviously hyperbole, the issues highlighted above are not irrelevant – the law is in place for good reason.
By the time I had got my head into gear to mention this, though, the lady had happily passed by me on her merry way, contentedly carrying her big chunk of Giant hogweed (but hopefully no seeds!) along with her.
At least she was wearing gloves, and in fairness, it would look quite good in the corner as a display piece.