Ragwort Code of Practice published

  • A Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort has been published by Defra. The code came about as because of a Private Members’ Bill, supported by the BHS, in 2002 which resulted in the Ragwort Control Act of 2003.

    The code of practice “aims to reduce significantly the risk that horses or other livestock might be poisoned” by providing a “strategic and cost-effective approach” to controlling ragwort.

    It gives advice on:

  • Identification of Common Ragwort
  • Risk assessment and priorities for ragwort control
  • Control methods – their suitability and efficacy
  • Environmental considerations
  • Health and safety issues

    In addition the code of practice, which has evidential status, is expected to make it easier to enforce the Weeds Act of 1959, which requires an occupier of land where Common Ragwort is growing to take action to prevent it spreading.

    Above all, the publication of the code will increase awareness of legal requirements surrounding the control of ragwort, as well as emphasising the threat the noxious weed poses to horses and other livestock.

    A BHS spokesperson explained that although the code of practice is a major step forward in the battle with ragwort, it doesn’t provide the blanket control of ragwort that many horse owners would like to see:

    “Whilst the code of practice is a groundbreaking document, it doesn’t go quite as far as we would have liked. However, it a very sensible compromise allowing for the improved control of ragwort while providing conservation groups with the possibility of retaining the plant, which has a significant role within the countryside’s eco system,” she said.

    Conservation groups, under the umbrella of Countryside & Wildlife Link were initially opposed to the ragwort control act, and were very concerned about the effects of the Code of Practice.

    But lengthy discussions between the various interest groups produced a document which accedes to demands from conservation groups – the code “does not seek to eradicate ragwort” – while accepting the danger it poses to horses – “but only seeks to control it where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals.

  • Although the official figure for the number of horses killed by ragwort last year stands in the region of 300, the actual figure is thought to be much higher since post-mortem examinations are so rarely carried out.
  • Ragwort poisoning can currently only be diagnosed through clinical signs, by which time irreparable damage to the horse’s liver has occurred and death is inevitable.
  • Click here to see a copy of the Ragwort Code of Practice.
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