Ragwort epidemic grips Britain

  • The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) has received more calls about ragwort this summer than ever before.

    The leading equine charity says horse owners need to be extra vigilant. Increased rainfall and uncut verges, due to the wet weather, have left the yellow weed at “epidemic levels”.

    According to botanists, ragwort is spreading at a rate of 10% per year.
    Ragwort is the scourge of pony paddocks across the country. The yellow blossoms look pretty to the untrained eye, but horse owners know to treat the weed with caution.

    Professor Derek Knottenbelt from Liverpool University estimates that 500 to 1,000 horses in the UK die from eating ragwort each year. He said the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher, because ragwort poisoning is not easy to detect.

    “Victims can die of bleeding, chronic dementia or weight loss all of which are rarely attributed to ragwort,” said Prof Knottenbelt. “It can take two years of regular ingesting for complete liver failure to occur — resulting in a slow and painful death.”

    If you find ragwort in your fields, spraying or digging it up are the best ways of tackling it. Make sure you wear a dust mask to prevent inhalation and vinyl gloves to stop the toxins entering the bloodstream: the alkaloid toxins contained within the plant are extremely harmful to humans too. Even cutting the flower heads off can help because each plant head is capable of spawning 175,000 plants the following year.

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