SCOTS outdoors enthusiasts are being warned to be extra vigilant against tick bites after a herbicide ban raised concerns that the insects' population is likely to soar.

The number of cases of Lyme disease – a potentially debilitating condition transmitted by ticks – has already risen from 28 in 2001 to 308 in 2010, but an EU ban on the herbicide Asulam has left nature watchers fearful that the increase in infections could accelerate.

Asulam is used to control the spread of bracken which provides a perfect habitat for ticks. It was withdrawn from sale at the end of 2011 and its use will be prohibited from December this year.

Lyme disease is transmitted via the bite of an infected tick and can lead to complications, including damage to the nervous system and heart.

Tick-borne disease charity BADA-UK has now expressed fears that the Asulam ban will lead to a rise in cases of the disease.

The charity's patron, survival expert Ray Mears said: "The spread of bracken as a result of the Asulam ban will lead to increased tick numbers making it all the more important that the public takes precautions against tick bites when out and about in rural areas."

Wendy Fox, chairwoman of BADA-UK, was left disabled as a result of Lyme disease. She said: "Increased interest in outdoor pursuits, combined with an increasing tick population is resulting in a year-on-year rise in cases of tick-borne disease."

The charity is backing a Scots research firm which is seeking hillwalkers to help them assess whether there would be a market for a device which removes ticks. Roslin-based Xeroshield is looking to develop the gadget.