Astra Garkāje Latvia

Working together to eradicate a giant, skin-burning plant

"I noticed that cooperation produced good results."

Astra Garkāje, a senior phytosanitary (plant health) inspector in Latvia, has made it her personal goal to eradicate an invasive plant that is harmful both to humans and the environment. 

Sosnowsky’s hogweed (Heracleum sosnowskyi) – or simply “hogweed” – is a gigantic plant from the Caucasus mountains that was first recorded in Latvia in 1948 and has since spread throughout the country. Its vigorous growth means that it outcompetes other plants, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also causes severe skin burns in humanslimits what land can be used for and reduces the value of properties. 

Recognizing the need for action, the Government of Latvia established a dedicated eradication programme. Inspectors such as Astra from the State Plant Protection Service used global positioning receivers to precisely survey areas invaded by hogweed and then passed the data to local governments who set out plans for eradication. 

Astra realised from the off that coordination and team work were essential. “I noticed that cooperation produced good results, but where it was absent, people were waiting for somebody else to do the job and things became worse.” 

Working longer hours on a voluntary basis, Astra attended meetings, contacted local governments, provided advice in response to telephone enquiries, and above all, emphasized the need for urgent action. One suggestion she made, adopted by local governments, was to offer tax refunds to those landowners who undertake eradication measures on their land.  

Astra has seen how people’s hard work and dedication can reap benefits. In one place, hogweed has been eradicated from a beautiful wetland that can once again be enjoyed by the public. In another example, Astra learned about a man who, although he has no property himself, takes out his spade from his car whenever he sees a hogweed plant and cuts it out. 

Astra urges everyone to continue in this spirit of taking action together 

“Do not give up!”