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New law to combat ragwort

The threat posed to horses by the spread of ragwort has been recognised at the highest level thanks to the British Horse Society-initiated Ragwort Control Bill, which completed its passage through parliament yesterday and is set to become law early next year.

The Bill paves the way for the introduction of a new “code of practice” to prevent and control the spread of the weed, which is highly toxic to all equines and was responsible for at least 6,500 deaths last year.

BHS chief executive, Kay Driver, says: “We are delighted that the Ragwort Control Bill has been successful. This will, we hope, make a real difference in landowners’ attitudes towards the need to control ragwort.”

The draft code of practice, which will apply to England only and is expected to go under consultation shortly, covers:

  • The laws and responsibilities of land owners
  • Risks to animal and human health
  • Policies for control and monitoring spread
  • Special provisions for specific categories of land, such as set aside and common land
  • Cultural, chemical and biological methods of control
  • Health and safety issues
  • Safe methods of disposal

There were concerns that the Bill would be high jacked at the final stage by conservations groups, who feared the effect it would have on ragwort’s ecological status, but these amendments were withdrawn during the debate stage last week.

“The society would like to thank the government, MPs and members of the House of Lords for their support of the Ragwort Control Bill, which is a significant step forward for horse owners worried about the spread of ragwort in this country,” continues Kay.

The BHS acknowledges that eradicating ragwort completely is not necessary to protect the equine population, but maintains it is essential to control it and prevent it from spreading to grazing land and land used for the production of dried forage.

“The BHS is willing to co-operate with conservation groups to ensure a workable code of practice acceptable to both them and to horse owners.”

Kay concludes: “Horse owners must, and many do, accept their responsibility to undertake proper pasture management, and the BHS will help to promote this. However, it is irresponsible of neighbouring or other landowners to allow ragwort growing on their land to spread and endanger the lives of horses.”

  • Further details of the Bill and the draft code of practice are available on: www.defra.gov.uk/rural/horses/topics/ragwort.htm
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