Ragwort

Ragwort is a pleasant looking plant, but in certain circumstances it can be dangerous to animals.

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Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) is a very common plant that is native to Eurasia that is generally found in dry, open places. Ragwort is native to the UK and provides a home and food source to at least 77 insect species.

Ragwort: poisonous to horses

The main problem with ragwort is that it is poisonous to animals, in particular, horses and cattle. Horses do not normally eat ragwort due to its bitter taste, but it loses this taste when dried-out and can become a danger if it gets mixed in with hay or other feed. If ragwort is consumed in sufficient quantity it can cause irreversible cirrhosis of the liver. There is no known antidote or cure to this poisoning.

Although ragwort is poisonous to humans there is little risk due to it being distasteful and therefore isn’t used as food.

What does ragwort look like?

Ragwort is considered a biennial plant but can exhibit perennial properties under certain conditions. The green stem is erect, straight and has few or no hairs and range in height from 0.3 to 2 metres.

The leaves are pinnately lobed and the flower heads are bright yellow and range in size from 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres. The flowers are in dense clusters and will last from June to November. In any one season, a ragwort plant can produce up to 2,500 yellow flowers and up to 120,000 seeds. Research has shown that the seeds do not travel a great distance from the plant and very few grow into new plants.

The law regarding ragwort

Ragwort was identified under The Weeds Act 1959 that empowers ministers to serve notice that requires the occupier of the land to take action to prevent the spread of ragwort. Under the Ragwort Control Act 2003, a Code of Practice was introduced that aims to help prevent the spread of ragwort onto land that is used for horses and livestock.

Ragwort Code of Practice

A Code of Practice for ragwort was introduced by The Government in February 2004 and contrary to popular opinion it does not require anyone to control or treat ragwort; however, it is expected that land landowners will seek to prevent ragwort from spreading.

The Code of Practice splits ragwort into three risk categories.

High risk – Ragwort is present within 50 metres of land that is used for grazing or for crops. Immediate action needs to be taken to treat the ragwort.

Medium risk – Ragwort is present within 50-100 metres of land that is used for grazing or crops. An action plan should be put together.

Low risk – Ragwort is present over 100 metres of land used for grazing or crops. No action needs to be taken.

Ragwort control

There are two main methods that can be used to treat ragwort. The method used is largely dependent on how far the ragwort has spread, the current use of the land and if there is a watercourse nearby.

Pulling/Digging/Excavation

If the ragwort is present within a small area then hand pulling or digging can be appropriate. If utilising this method, it is essential that all of the root system is removed as ragwort can grow back from small pieces of the root system. If the ragwort is present over a large area then diggers and other machinery can be used to excavate it.

Herbicide

The use of herbicide on ragwort can be extremely effective however the use of it is dependent on what the land is used for and if it is near a watercourse. If the land is used for livestock or crops then herbicide can be dangerous and should not be used.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that one application of herbicide will be enough to completely kill the plant.

Contact a ragwort  expert

If you suspect there is ragwort within 100 metres of land that is used for grazing or for growing crops call Wise Knotweed Solutions Free today on 0808 231 9218 or find your local branch.

Alternatively, you can fill in our contact form and a member of our team will get back to you.

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