A leading scientist has urged Horse & Hound readers to act now in the fight against ragwort by uprooting it during the winter months.

Biologist Dr Peter Lutman said many people begin to tackle the weed, which is potentially toxic if ingested by equines, only when it comes into flower in the summer months. But the weed is controlled more effectively if it is treated earlier.

“People wait until the ragwort flowers and then panic as it springs up everywhere,” he said. “It’s much better to treat it in the spring before it starts growing. I would advise people to make sure they’ve removed it from their land by the end of April.”

Dr Lutman said that the ideal conditions for ragwort removal are during dry, mild weather.

“There’s an increasing amount of ragwort around, so it’s essential that we get the message across,” he said.

Speaking to H&H last year, minister for the horse Barry Gardiner said ragwort had a role to play in terms of biodiversity, but Dr Lutman stressed this was not the case when horses were nearby.

“It is all right in semi-natural places,” he said, “but not where you want to keep grazing animals.”

The Highways Agency is one organisation that adopts a year-round approach to ragwort control, with teams inspecting the M25 area every three weeks for signs of the weed.

Members of the public who wish to complain about the spread of ragwort along verges or railway land should contact the Highways Agency, the local Highways Authority or National Rail.

To find out more, visit www.defra.gov.uk/rural/horses/topics/ragwort.htm

  • This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (1 February, ’07)