Getting rid of ragwort

The common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is a familiar sight in Britain. It’s pretty, isn’t it? But it’s classed as an injurious weed under the Weeds Act 1959. That was amended by the Ragwort Control Act 2003 for England and Wales. Basically, if you see ragwort on your land you’ve to get rid.

Every farmer and every equestrian knows this plant and they don’t love it. The reason? It’s poisonous to livestock including horses and cattle. They won’t touch it when it’s growing, on the whole, because it tastes bad to them. But would you take that risk for your herd? When a herd has grazed, often you can see short turf dotted by tall ragwort and other weeds that the animals don’t like. Farmers top that land, meaning that they cut everything down to the height of the turf. It’s after topping, or after haymaking, that the risk to the animals really begins. Dried ragwort may not be your own idea of a tasty snack but herbivorous livestock chomp it happily. And then they get ill.

DEFRA’s Code of Practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort is readily available. For organic farmers and growers, Garden Organic’s weed management guidance is available too. These guidelines are particularly relevant this year because our very wet summer has made 2012 a bumper year for ragwort.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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10 Responses to Getting rid of ragwort

  1. Watervole says:

    Given the amount of ragwort, I’d say attempts to control it are a waste of effort. It would probably be cheaper to spend the money hand-pulling it in fields that will be used as hay for livestock. They spend millions controlling it along motorways. I’d rather see it spent on non-natives like Japanese knotweed.

    • argylesock says:

      Do you happen to know how many millions are spent on ragwort along motorways? By whom? In which regions?

      You comment led me to read the DEFRA Code of Practice more thoroughly that I had. It says that hand-pulling can be done but gloves are necessary to prevent human poisoning, and that it depends on individual plants’ being spotted. It’s an interesting idea though. Perhaps quite expensive in staff wages and overheads, I think.

    • argylesock says:

      PS I do intend to blog about Japanese knotweed at some point. It’s a serious issue, isn’t it?

  2. Carol Hague says:

    Cinnabar moth caterpillars! 🙂 They eat ragwort and are pretty stripy things that grow into pretty red and black moths! Alas, probably not a practical means of control 😦

    • argylesock says:

      How interesting. I plan to blog about biological control and this is a good example. The DEFRA Code of Practice on ragwort says that research into the cinnabar moth as a biological control agent is underway, but at an early stage.

      • Carol Hague says:

        Oh cool! I didn’t know that! Rather a shame really that insects can’t really grow huge, like the ones in 1960s horror films – a giant cinnabar moth would be a glorious thing, although feeding it might be difficult.

  3. ellig123 says:

    So much of it around this year. Horrible stuff.

  4. Pingback: Lepidopteran of the month: Small tortoiseshell butterfly | Science on the Land

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