EPIDEMIC levels of highly toxic ragwort are endangering horses and livestock throughout the country, says World Horse Welfare.
The charity is urging communities, local authorities and landowners to take action, particularly along motorways.
“Ragwort poses a huge risk to horse health — this plant is a hooligan that spreads incredibly quickly,” said Tony Tyler of World Horse Welfare.
The Countryside Alliance is writing to all local councils this week reminding them of their duties to clear ragwort from land near grazing.
As many as 6,500 horses die every year from ragwort poisoning, according to British Horse Society (BHS) figures, but humans can be affected too.
The plant’s toxins kill cells in the liver, with the dead cells turning to fibrous tissue.
Large concentrations of the plant, via the foraging of bees, can contaminate honey for human consumption.
Its presence in the liver isn’t usually spotted in horses until too late and failure has occurred.
Michelle Andrews, of Essex, whose Irish draught-cross horse was diagnosed with ragwort poisoning last year, only realised because another horse on the same yard was ill.
“The signs of poisoning are not as acute as you would imagine. My horse was just a bit nappy and stroppy.
“But my friend’s Anglo Arab was quite depressed and the vet said they both had ragwort poisoning,” she said.
Both horses have recovered.
A Highways Agency spokesman said: “We target our efforts at infestations growing close to animal pasture.”
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (21 August, ’08)