How to get rid of gorse

An interloper and an upstart, a new arrival that has outshone the locals. Gorse, that inescapable feature of our hillsides, its gold flowers a neon sign announcing its presence. It flowers twice here, once more than it does in its continent of origin, Europe. Like pine trees and 10 Guitars, it has had a life of its own in this country.

Gorse was introduced by European settlers in the 19th century for hedges, a cheap alternative to timber fences. But it soon outgrew that purpose, spreading to hills and pasture. Over the years we’ve hacked and slashed at the stuff, but it springs back hydra-like from where it’s cut. The shape of those smooth thorns also makes it immune to many herbicides. Even burning it doesn’t work well. The hard outer coating of gorse seed means it can make a quick comeback after a fire. And so, we’ve looked to nature for allies, importing a whole troop of bugs in the hope they’d eat gorse for breakfast.

This attempt at biological warfare began as early as 1928, with the introduction of the gorse seed weevil. It munches a little on gorse foliage, but its larvae does the most damage by eating the seeds. Even so, our gorse grows faster than their appetite and we’ve since imported the gorse spider mite, the gorse thrip, the gorse soft shoot moth, the gorse pod moth and the gorse colonial hard shoot moth. And yet, from what I can see, we still have gorse.

There’s talk of a fungi, but my hopes aren’t high. And I must note that gorse isn’t all bad. It can keep hillsides from eroding and if left for decades it does actually provide cover for native plants. Saplings will grow up through the gorse canopy and create shade, killing the gorse. It also makes a refreshing drink - I once watched that posh rustic Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall make wine of gorse flowers.

Pick one and rub it between your hands. According to him it smells like coconut and makes something that tastes not unlike a pina colada. There’s apparently a lot of fun to be add in reaching into those thorny hedges to retrieve a million or so of those tiny flowers. And this begs the question, could gorse wine production be the answer to our gorse problem? The thing that succeeds in wiping out this pest when all those moths have failed? I can only conclude yes.