Ragwort – the silent killer of between 500 and 2000 horses annually – is taking over the British countryside, and also poses an increasing risk to humans, according to experts.

As Professor Derek Knottenbelt explained at the Pony Club Conference yesterday, it has now been found in wheat, milk and honey, all products intended for human consumption. In a bid to raise awareness of the horrific liver damage ragwort causes, The British Horse Society is to launch its 2006 Ragwort Awareness Campaign at a Ragwort Awareness Conference in London on Thursday 27 April.

Poisoning from ragwort can only be detected when around 70% of the liver is already dead, as Professor Knottenbelt explained: “It is a silent, devious killer – a hooligan… Ragwort poisoning is unacceptable and totally avoidable,” he explained. “The burgeoning of ragwort across the UK is not only a hazard for horses and other grazing animals. It has potentially serious human implications and is an environmental disaster in the making.”

The conference in April aims to educate local authorities and other major land owners about existing ragwort laws and the dangers the weed poses to animals and humans. Professor Knottenbelt will be speaking along with botanist and conservationist Professor David Bellamy.

BHS Chairman Patrick Print said: “Education is our main weapon in fighting the scourge of ragwort. For this vital conference to have maximum impact, we would like to encourage members of the public to urge their local councillors, MPs and major landowners in their counties to attend to learn more about ragwort.”

The conference is by invitation only. However, interested parties are welcome to apply for a place by contacting the Welfare Department(tel: 01926 707839).

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