Mother warns of Giant Hogweed dangers after children left with burns

  • Watch a report by Christine Alsford

A mother from Hampshire has been warning other parents of the dangers of the Giant Hogweed plant after her children were left with severe burns and blisters.

Rebecca Barnes’ son and daughter, Reggie aged 7 and Roma aged 5, came into contact with the plant while playing outdoors with branches near a river close to their home. They both ended up needing medical treatment at a specialist unit.

Their mother said that at first, her daughter began to develop mild redness and rash-like symptoms, then after a long day in the sun things got worse.

Giant Hogweed is a common wild plant which produces a toxic sap. When the sap reacts with sunlight, it can damage the skin and cause permanent blisters and scars. It can also even lead to permanent blindness.

Roma's leg was burned after contact with the Giant Hogweed

Both Roma and her brother both needed treatment at Salisbury District Hospital. Their parents think more should be done to alert the public to the dangers. 

As the day went on the blisters just got bigger and bigger and bigger. It's not the actual plant that's toxic but the sap removes the natural UV protection of the skin. So what she's actually suffering is burns from the sun.

It's not commonly warned about which I think it needs to be personally - especially on public footpaths there needs to be pictures of it because if the sap gets into your eyes it can cause permanent blindness.

Rebecca Barnes, mother of Reggie and Roma

Roma was left with blisters which grew and grew

Rebecca Barnes is campaigning for warning signs to be posted along public footpaths. Meanwhile, Roma, will have to have bandages on her arms and legs for several weeks. Her mother says that the five-year-old will need to be extremely careful for the foreseeablefuture.

She is going to have to... for at least six months, but up to seven years be covered - sun protection won't be enough. I'm just praying that the scarring isn't left because it can obviously leave really bad scars.

Rebecca Barnes, Roma's mother

Experts, such as Guy Barter from the Royal Horticultural Society, say the weather conditions may mean that the risks of coming into contact with Giant Hogweed are greater this year than usual because the plant is flourishing in the current climate.

It likes damp soil, it likes riparian areas next to rivers and of course this winter we had an awful lot of rain - one of the wettest winters on record - rivers were high, that picked up the seeds and fragments of plants and spread them out along water courses.

Guy Barter, Royal Horticultural Society

Giant Hogweed is found all over the country

Giant Hogweed can be found throughout the UK, particularly near river banks where itseeds can be transported by the water.

The Woodland Trust advises people whose skin comes into contact with Giant Hogweed sap to wash the area thoroughly immediately, to seek medical advice, and not to expose the affected area to sunlight for a few days.