Environmental Disaster in Oxfordshire

Ragwort is the most common cause of poisoning in livestock in Britain. Animal lovers will be horrified to hear that Ragwort is deadly poisonous both when it us growing and also when dry in hay. A pony dies after eating as little as 2lbs (.9 kgs). The toxins affect the liver and the pony dies a horribly painful death; there is no cure. Not only is the plant spreading at an alarming rate across our common and open spaces, it is smothering and killing rare wild flowers such as the green winged orchid and the delicate harebell. Once we lose these wild flowers they will never return.  

As Ragwort is such an injurious weed, it is specified under the 1959 Weeds Act. The ministry of Agriculture, Foods and Fisheries has powers to serve clearance notices on landowners that allow the plant to grow. Ragwort is easy to recognise, in the spring it produces a rosette of dark green leaves with irregular and ragged edges, it then grows

into an upright plant as tall as three feet with a woody stem slightly red at the base. In July the plant produces a large head of flowers with daisy-like petals in bright yellow. This prolific plant produces up to 150,000 seeds a year, of which 70% will germinate. 

 The best method of clearing Ragwort is to spray the area during late April or early May with a herbicide, but this is environmentally unacceptable in most places. However, the plant does pull up very easily once the flower head appears, and this proves an equally effective method of clearing it. Clearance must be done before it has a chance to seed. All plants pulled up must be put into bags and ideally incinerated to prevent the seeds germinating again. Always remember to wear gloves when doing this.

 What we need is for everyone to work together in the country to clear this toxic weed. Private land, open spaces, nature reserves, roadside verges and gardens all need to be checked thoroughly this summer and cleared of ragwort. This is a project that anyone can help with, whether it is advising us of areas you have found or simply pulling up the plants as you find them while out walking. To do the latter all you will need is a bag to put them into, it is as simple as that!   The British Horse Society is organising a major ragwort clearance programme across Oxfordshire this summer, and we welcome everyone who has read this article to join us. If you want to safeguard the environment for future generations and care about the welfare of animals, then please join our campaign and become involved in this project.

For advice, leaflets, or to offer help please contact the BHS welfare officer, Miss D. M. Harris, on 01993 702844.