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The dangers of ragwort for horses

PUBLISHED: 11:57 13 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:57 13 June 2017

One ragwort plant can produce 150,000 seed heads (photo: Roel_Meijer/iStock)

One ragwort plant can produce 150,000 seed heads (photo: Roel_Meijer/iStock)

Roel_Meijer/iStock

It’s bright and cheerful, but ragwort is a potential killer. It’s the responsibility of all landowners to keepit at bay, the British Horse Society says

As we move into summer, the gardens and fields of Hertfordshire are blooming. But for horse owners the growth of flowers, weeds and shrubs can bring a deadly problem – ragwort.

A weed with bright yellow flowers, ragwort is a common sight on the side of Britain’s roads and railway tracks. If it gets into a grazing field and is consumed over a period of time by horses it can cause irreversible liver damage and in severe cases can prove fatal.

Ragwort has a very bitter taste so normally it isn’t appealing to animals. However, in cases where a horse might not have enough food, it may be forced to eat it. A further problem is that when ragwort is cut it loses its bitter taste but remains just as toxic. This means that if it is cut and baled in hay for horses it is highly likely to go unnoticed and be eaten.

You may think that if you’re not a horse owner, then you don’t need to worry about ragwort. However, under law it is a landowner’s responsibility to ensure that any ragwort on their land is properly managed. This means that if you’re a landowner, yard manager, tenant or livery client, clearing ragwort could be your responsibility, so it is important you know how to keep it at bay. Natural England is the body responsible for enforcing the law surrounding ragwort in England, and can investigate any complaints regarding the plant growing on land.

The law is relatively clear, if you are responsible for land in a high-risk area, then you need to take immediate action to remove any ragwort. A high-risk zone is within 50 meters of an area used for horse grazing or forage production. The reason the 50 meters has been established is because ragwort spreads rapidly. Once flowered, one ragwort plant can produce 150,000 seeds!

A medium-risk zone is defined as land 50-100 meters away from an area used for grazing or forage production. For landowners in these areas, they need to monitor ragwort and put controls in place if necessary.

If you think you might have ragwort on your land, but are not sure how to identify it, The British Horse Society has an interactive toolkit on its website (bhs.org.uk/ragwort) which will help.

If you’ve correctly identified ragwort on your property, and you’re in a high-risk area, then under law it’s your responsibility to remove it. There are a number of ways to remove ragwort, from using herbicides, to improving overall pasture management. The most effective way can be to just pull the plants out, although when handling ragwort it is important to wear gloves. It’s crucial that no ragwort is left in the field and it is correctly disposed of.

It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure horses are protected from this potential killer.

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