WALKERS are being warned to take care after a non-native plant which can cause devastating burns was spotted growing by a riverside path in Herefordshire.

Spotter Cheryl Waring reported this stand of giant hogweed, which found its way to Britain as an ornamental plant in the 19th century, and has now established itself across the UK after escaping into the countryside.

Cheryl said: "Walking along the riverbank footpath opposite Ballingham Hill, I found these young nasties.

"Giant hogweed can be devastating to humans, potentially causing blindness and horrific burns.

"It looks like these have been sprayed, but reported to the Environment Agency as very close to the footpath and not cordoned."

Often found growing on riverbanks, where the flowing water easily spreads its seeds downstream, giant hogweed became notorious during the 1970s, with reports of children suffering skin damage and heavy blistering after using the stems to make pea shooters and telescopes.

Chemicals in the sap make the skin sensitive to sunlight, and can lead to blistering, pigmentation loss, and permanent scarring, and it should not be touched with naked skin.

Growing several metres tall, and with flower heads as large as 60 centimetres across, the invasive non-native has thick, bristly stems, jagged lobed leaves, and umbel shaped blooms.

It is an offence to cause the weed to grow in the wild, but there is no statutory obligation for landowners to eliminate it from their land.

Local authorities have powers to require it to be removed under certain circumstances.