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Battle against killer plant
The British Horse Society (BHS) is continuing its fight to combat the toxic plant ragwort with a third nationwide survey this month.
Every year animals die painful and unnecessary deaths as a result of damage to their liver from consuming Ragwort. The danger that the plant poses is widely known, yet levels in the UK apparently still continue to rise. This suggests that the laws governing ragwort (Weeds Act 1959, Ragwort Control Act 2003) are not being enforced and the threat that the plant represents is not being taken seriously.
In 2010, spurred by concern over the increase in reports of horses grazing in ragwort filled fields, the BHS launched a nationwide survey to draw up a true picture of the extent and location of the weed. If hard evidence is acquired, the battle to control the weed will be easier to fight and win.
The initial survey produced some very interesting results. More than 75 percent of cases reported involved land that animals were grazing on or near. A total of 13,189 horses were identified as grazing on ragwort infested pasture, with the figure for cattle and sheep being estimated as approaching 20,000. In more than one third of reports, the plant was said to cover at least half of the land.
Respondents to the 2011 survey identified 20,781 horses grazing either on, or within 50 metres of, fields containing ragwort. Most reports of ragwort were received in Cambridgeshire with Hampshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey completing the top five hotspots. Wrexham and Stirlingshire seem to be relatively ragwort free as the least reports were received from these areas.
While the results of this survey are important, it’s not enough. By carrying out the survey annually, the BHS is hoping to gain an insight into trends in ragwort proliferation and to strengthen the argument to control it. This can then be used to encourage better enforcement of ragwort control and lobby for changes in legislation.
Therefore, the BHS is once again appealing to all horse lovers to take time to help complete their “snapshot survey” during BHS Ragwort Awareness Week (July 23-29). If anyone spots ragwort near to horses during this period they are asked to spend just a couple of minutes filling in the survey form available on the BHS website, <&bh"http://www.bhs.org.uk/">www.bhs.org.uk<&eh> throughout the week.
Lee Hackett, BHS Senior Executive (Welfare), said: “Everybody involved with horses should know the danger posed by ragwort. Despite this we get hundreds of reports each year of horses’ health being put at risk by grazing them in ragwort infested fields. This suggests that the education message is not getting through and that the existing legislation is not being enforced.
“Our surveys so far have been a great success and produced some fascinating results that we can use in our lobbying to get some action taken. But we need far more data to help us get a handle on the true prevalence of ragwort.
“We recognise that ragwort has its place within our ecosystem but that place is not anywhere near to horses. So we are appealing to anyone who cares about equine welfare to become involved in 2012 survey. The questions only takes a couple of minutes to answer but the information we obtain might just be what we need to effect a substantial change.”