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Around 6,500 horses died from ragwort poisoning last year, a massive jump of 6,000 compared to the 500 reported deaths in 2001.

This increase of 1,300% has shocked many in the equestrian community, including Dr Derek Knottenbelt from the University of Liverpool, who had expected the number to double for 2002, but not to jump by so much.

County by county, Surrey was by far the worst affected with its neighbouring county Hampshire not far behind.

The research by the BHS and BEVA found that 89% of vets had dealt with suspected cases of ragwort poisoning with three-quarters having seen confirmed cases. There is also serious concern that there are many more undetected cases as few owners elect to have post mortems performed when their animals die.

BHS Chief Executive Kay Driver, says: “This survey has shown what we have always feared, that the equine population in this country is under a constant threat of poisoning from common ragwort ingestion.

“However hard a horse owner may try to keep a pasture clear and to buy clean forage, it is the responsibility of every landowner and occupier to practice a duty of care in keeping ragwort under control.

“The Ragwort Control Bill, if it becomes law, will go a long way towards promoting active control through a statutory code of practice. Then and only then will we see a drop in the horrendous number of equines suffering death from ragwort poisoning.”

To read the draft Code of Practice to control the spread of ragwort click here