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.