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FACT: Under government regulations incorporated in the Weeds Act (1959) it’s actually an offence to allow ragwort to grow unchecked.

Although I’m sure you are familiar with this noxious weed, it can be described as follows: it grows 3 feet tall, has numerous yellow daisy like heads and apart from when it is very small tastes bitter. It grows on waste ground and in hedgerows and unfortunately it flourishes amongst grass which is the staple diet of most grazing animals. If there’s a significant amount of ragwort growing in a hay field this can lead to problems because once it is cut and has dried it keeps its palatability but remains highly toxic. When the plants are tall enough it is possible to pull them out individually but this is very labour intensive indeed.

Grazing sheep eat ragwort when it is very small with no obvious side effects and this denies it the chance to grow but horses and ponies tend to leave it well alone grazing around it, allowing the plant to flourish and eventually leading to it spreading. If the field is really badly managed and the animals have eaten all the grass then they’ve little option but to eat the ragwort, even though it tastes unpleasant. The problem is the damage it does to a horse’s liver, and this damage is cumulative and irreversible, even if only a small amount occurs each year. After several years of eating the plant unchecked, quite large areas of the animal’s liver can become malfunctional and there is NO cure, although it can be helped in some cases. Liver damage causes the animals to loose condition and become thin and blood tests will confirm the cause.

Apparently there is a very simple answer to ridding your paddocks of ragwort i.e. the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth which are a striking black and deep yellow actually eat ragwort flowers. So it might be a good idea to go out and collect a jar full of moths and enlist their help.

Maggie Wailes