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Warning from Thanet mum after son burnt by plant thought to be giant hogweed in Hawkinge, near Folkestone

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

A mum-of-two is warning adults and children to take care in fields and woods after her teenage son received a burn thought to have come from a wild plant, which could lead to long-term effects.

Dylan Fitzgerald, 13, who plays for Thanet Colts football club, noticed the injury sometime after taking part in a tournament at the Pavilion in Hawkinge, near Folkestone last weekend.

He collected the ball a few times after it went off the pitch and in the days that followed, his mum Hannah and doctors were baffled by a blister which began to grow rapidly on his knee.

Dylan's 'giant hogweed' burn
Dylan's 'giant hogweed' burn

Hannah, 35, from St Peter's in Broadstairs, said: "At one point, he got stung by what he thought was a nettle.

"It wasn't until the next evening that his knee started to become red and blister."

By the Monday morning, the blister was the size of a 5p coin, but had grown to the size of an egg by lunchtime.

It tore on Tuesday when Dylan had it medically dressed to stop the weeping, and received antibiotics and painkillers.

Later in the week, Mrs Fitzgerald's friend contacted her with an article about 'giant hogweed' - a plant often mistaken for cows parsley, with toxic consequences if it comes into contact with skin.

It's believed this is the plant that caused Dylan's reaction.

Its scars can last for years and can also cause long-term photo-sensitivity to sunlight, so victims are advised to cover up for several days and people who come in contact with it should wash the affected area thoroughly.

Giant hogweed. Picture: Wikimedia Commons - Appaloosa
Giant hogweed. Picture: Wikimedia Commons - Appaloosa

The plant is highly invasive and has spread across Britain in recent hot weather.

Mrs Fitzgerald said: "I wouldn't expect anybody to know it was there. It's a wild plant, it could grow anywhere.

"I don't think I could probably still identify it."

She hopes her family's experience can educate others: "Dylan's been lucky really that he had his long football socks on.

"Just be mindful that this plant exists and it can do damage.

"If you think you've been stung by a nettle but it begins to blister, that's when you know it's different."

Dylan's 'giant hogweed' burn
Dylan's 'giant hogweed' burn

Rob Lawford, chairman of Hawkinge Town FC, said: "Last week, it was brought to our attention that a young player who took part in the Hawkinge Youth tournament may have come into contact with ‘giant hogweed’.

"Upon further investigation, we identified the player had gone into an adjacent piece of land outside of the playing ground perimeter to retrieve a ball.

"We have had this piece of land surveyed and while not yet conclusive, it appears likely that giant hogweed or a plant similar to this is present.

"Hawkinge Town FC, Hawkinge Community Football and Sports Trust along with land owner Hawkinge Town Council, are now working together to form a plan of action to make this piece of land safe.

"The safety and enjoyment of hundreds of children who participated in this years’ tournament and indeed competitions throughout the year, is centre and front of all that we do.

"We will be doing everything in our power to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate incident.

"Our thoughts are with the player who suffered a nasty injury and wish them a speedy and full recovery.

"Hawkinge Town FC will be working closely with the Kent County Football Association to raise awareness of the dangers of this plant among member clubs throughout the county."

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