CONCERNS have been raised over a highly toxic plant that is growing in a popular park.

A warning has been issued by the community group which oversees Close Park in Radcliffe where Giant Hogweed has been sighted.

The plants are growing beside the football pitches, in woodland and along Health Walk, which is frequented by families. A large number of the plants have also been spotted on the banks of the River Irwell, many on land owned by United Utilities. The Bury Times has contacted United Utilities for comment.

Colette Jones, Chairwoman of Friends of Close Park said: "I have not seen this much in the park before and it is a real worry.

"It would be easy for a child to touch the plants. It only needs a child playing football to fall on it and be burned. Children are drawn to them because they grow so tall. They break them off to use them as sticks not realising how dangerous they are."

The group reported the Hogweed in the park to Bury Council, who along with the Environment Agency have been treating the Hogweed and Japanese Knotwood for several years.

Hogweed spread across the Irwell Valley after the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

A Bury Council spokesman said: "We have been treating this Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed for years now, and we’re being helped in our work by volunteers and the local anglers. The EA are also treating this site, and hopefully with everyone’s help we can make a big impact this year.”

In July 2015, a group of schoolchildren were left with horrific burns and sores after touching the plant in Moses Gate Country Park.

United Utilities previously advised residents who come into contact with Giant Hogweed to cover the affected area, wash it with soap and water and seek medical attention.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “We have been controlling the spread of Giant Hogweed, which is an invasive species that can suppress the growth of native plants, in Close Park, Radcliffe for a number of years.

“This controlled maintenance, which includes spraying, forms part of our preliminary works as we continue to develop the first phase of the £40 million Radcliffe and Redvales flood defence scheme within Close Park.

“If left untreated, Giant Hogweed can spread rapidly along watercourses and we encourage members of the public not to go near it. If you spot Giant Hogweed in your area, you can report it to us via our incident hotline 0800 80 70 60. Further advice and guidance on invasive plants can also be found on the website."