Toolkit: Dealing with Ragwort in England
If you own or care for horses in England and you’re worried about the dangers of ragwort, The British Horse Society is here to help you make sense of what to do.
What’s the problem?
Ragwort is a common weed that grows throughout the British Isles and presents a danger to horses if allowed to spread into pastures used by them. If eaten in any state, it can cause cumulative and irreversible liver damage – making it a worry for many owners.
Ragwort contains the toxic compounds pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Horses are particularly susceptible to ragwort poisoning, although other grazing animals are also at risk. Pyrrolizdine alkaloids principally damage the liver, resulting in severe disease and in many cases death.
While most horses won’t immediately choose to eat ragwort if it’s growing among their grazing – its taste at this stage is usually off-putting – this isn’t a guarantee. Horses will eat ragwort if nothing else is available, and can develop a taste for it. Ragwort also loses its unpalatable taste if it’s cut, dried and found in forage like hay – but it doesn’t lose any of its toxicity. If left to grow, ragwort may spread quickly and easily.
This means proportionate control of ragwort in all high-risk areas is vital to safeguard horses from its devastating effects. Under the Weeds Act 1959, landowners and occupiers are obliged to control ragwort in risk areas.
Get the facts, get the help
In this toolkit, you'll find:
An identification guide for common ragwort
An interactive flowchart showing what to do if you're worried about ragwort in your area
Advice on safe removal and disposal where necessary
Frequently asked questions
The BHS does not advocate blanket removal of all ragwort. The plant plays a significant role in biodiversity, providing a habitat and food for many types of insect, plus pollen for bees. Ragwort has an important place in the British ecosystem in areas away from livestock grazing or forage production land, and should only be removed from high-risk areas.