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The Dangers of Ragwort

July 2020

Ragwort is a common weed many of us will see thriving on wasteland, road verges and railway land, and if left to grow can spread easily and quickly onto neighbouring horse pasture. 

The danger is that ragwort contains toxic compounds which can cause poisoning to horses if eaten in any state. Horses are particularly at risk of ragwort poisoning, although other grazing animals are susceptible too. Ragwort can damage the liver, which may eventually result in severe disease and even death. 

effects of consumption

Most horses won’t immediately choose to eat ragwort if it is growing among their grazing because it tastes bitter– but this isn’t a guarantee. Horses will eat ragwort if nothing else is available, if they eat it accidentally or where parts of the plant have died and become palatable. Ragwort loses its bitter taste if it’s cut, dried and found in forage like hay – but it doesn’t lose any of its toxicity and still remains a danger.    

 

Clinical signs of ragwort poisoning – contact your vet for advice immediately:

Clinical signs of poisoning

 
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

The control of ragwort comes under two government acts, The Weeds Act (1959) and The Control of Ragwort Act (2003). It isn’t an offence for ragwort to grow in certain areas but because common ragwort is a specified weed under the Weeds Act (1959), landowners/occupiers have a legal obligation to control the spread if it poses a high-risk to land used for grazing or forage production.

In the equestrian sector, the person responsible for the control of ragwort could be a landowner, yard manager, tenant or livery client. Check your contract as it may stipulate who is responsible for removing ragwort from the horses’ pasture. Discuss any concerns with your yard manager or the landowner.

It is vital that horse owners know how to identify ragwort to reduce the risk of poisoning and help stop the vicious cycle of it growing in pasture. It is strongly advised that gloves are worn when handling ragwort.

assessing the risk

RAGWORT TOOLKIT

For horse owners and landowners, it can be extremely frustrating when you keep your pastures and forage production land clear of ragwort but are being affected due to the spread of ragwort from neighbouring land.

Use our Ragwort Toolkit for advice on who is responsible and how to resolve issues with neighbouring landowners. It also provides advice on how to safely and effectively remove and dispose of ragwort.


RAGWORT FORK

This innovative tool supports the BHS’s work on controlling the spread of ragwort on to high risk land (horse/livestock pasture and land used for forage production) and is ideal for lifting ragwort from the roots as part of paddock and garden maintenance. It also effectively removes other typical nuisance weeds therefore reducing the need for harmful chemicals. It is strong yet lightweight with a comfortable T Grip handle and has a unique head design and sharpened prongs for easy ground penetration. The fork works in the hardest of soils and is effective at digging out ragwort rosettes and fully mature ragwort plants.



FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

The BHS Welfare Department can provide free advice, advisory literature and posters on the control and dangers of Ragwort. Contact welfare@bhs.org.uk or call on 02476 840517.

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