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Stakeholder summit held as Defra and The British Horse Society work together to lead ragwort debate

20 Nov 2014

RagwortThe British Horse Society has today presented the results of its research into ragwort at a stakeholder summit with Defra and Lord de Mauley after conducting the largest survey of the English equine population.

At a stakeholder summit being held at Defra’s headquarters today, attended by Lord De Mauley, The British Horse Society revealed their recommendations for tackling concern about ragwort, a plant that can cause serious, and sometimes fatal harm, to horses.

The British Horse Society, with Defra’s input, will be producing a toolkit for local equine groups to give people clear and targeted advice about the best practice and effective mechanisms for both control on own land and legal responsibilities in connection with ragwort.

Additionally, The British Horse Society is calling for the establishment of local Ragwort Action Partnerships between local authorities, public and private landowners, and local equine groups. The aim of these partnerships is to help improve communication between these groups and ensure ragwort is controlled in areas used by horses.

These plans come after The British Horse Society, supported by Defra, conducted the largest survey of the English equine population to assess levels of awareness and concern about ragwort. It received 13,963 responses and showed a high awareness of ragwort, both in terms of its appearance and the affect it can have on livestock.

The key findings of the survey were:

·         20% of the respondents knew personally of instances where horses had been suspected or confirmed as having been harmed by ragwort poisoning.

·         93% said that they take preventative measures to reduce the risk of ragwort on the land that they own, rent or manage.

·         55% of respondents had taken no action when they had seen ragwort growing on land that they did not themselves own – the main reasons being that they did not know who to contact and they did not think they would be listened to.

·         75% of respondents have not sought advice about ragwort from organisations

·         84% of respondents reported having seen ragwort on land that is used by horses in the seven days prior to them completing the survey.

·         97%-99% of respondents believed that more activity is needed with joint public / sector policy responses, including improving knowledge, the enforcement of ragwort control regulations and improving local councils’ monitoring of ragwort.

The British Horse Society is confident that the introduction of a toolkit and local Ragwort Action Partnerships will help raise awareness of mechanisms to control the spread of ragwort where there is a risk and improve communication between the individuals and bodies involved in order to ensure that horses’ wellbeing is maintained and other interests protected.

The British Horse Society recognises ragwort’s value as a plant for pollinators and is keen to find the best way forward for everyone who cares about horses and biodiversity. It is important that the Society has explored, through the survey, the extent to which ragwort is a problem for horses so that it can be dealt with appropriately. The British Horse Society does not want to destroy all ragwort but it is imperative that animals are protected from its deadly effects by controlling it where it poses a risk to livestock, such as horses.

Lee Hackett, BHS Director of Equine Policy, said: “We are really pleased to have received such an overwhelming response to our survey and we would like to thank all of those who took the time to take part.

“The BHS is also grateful for the opportunity to have worked in this positive, collaborative way with Defra.

“Our survey enabled us to better understand the extent of the problem that ragwort causes and has informed our actions going forward.

"Introducing a toolkit and local Ragwort Action Partnerships will be important in raising awareness of the best practice and effective mechanisms for both controlling ragwort on their own land and respective legal responsibilities, as well as improving communication between the individuals and organisations who are affected by ragwort and involved in controlling the spread of the weed.”

“By continuing to work together, we will be able to best support the needs of all stakeholders in this issue.”

Download the research summary report (pdf)
to read more about the findings.

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