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Ragwort Week

Deadly weed is still on the rampage

The British Horse Society (BHS) is continuing its fight to combat the toxic plant Ragwort with a second nationwide survey in July.

Every year animals die painful and unnecessary deaths as a result of damage to their liver from consuming Ragwort. The danger that the plant poses is widely known, yet levels in the UK still continue to rise. This suggests that the laws governing Ragwort (Weeds Act 1959, Ragwort Control Act 2003) are not being enforced and the threat that the plant represents is not being taken seriously.

Last year, spurred by concern over the increase in reports, the BHS launched a nationwide survey to draw up a true picture of the extent and location of the weed. The Society believes that if hard evidence is acquired, the battle to control the weed will be easier to fight and win.

The initial survey produced some very interesting results. More than 75 percent of cases reported involved land that animals were grazing on or near. A total of 13,189 horses were identified as grazing on ragwort infested pasture, with the figure for cattle and sheep being estimated as approaching 20,000. In more than one third of reports, the plant was said to cover at least half of the land.

Hampshire was the most infested county in England, closely followed by Surrey, Cheshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. In Wales , the worst offender was Clwyd, while in Scotland Strathclyde gave cause for the biggest concern. At the other end of the scale, Cleveland, the Scottish Borders and West Glamorgan appeared to be relatively free of ragwort, with very few reports received.

While the results of this survey are important, it’s not enough. By carrying out the survey in the same week annually, the BHS is hoping to gain an insight into trends in ragwort proliferation and to strengthen the argument to control it. This can then be used to encourage better enforcement of ragwort control and lobby for changes in legislation.

Therefore, the BHS is once again appealing to all horse lovers to take time to help complete their "snapshot survey" during BHS Ragwort Awareness Week (11-17 July 2011). If anyone spots ragwort during this period they are asked to spend just a couple of minutes filling in the form available on the BHS website, www.bhs.org.uk. All respondents will be entered into a prize draw to win one of two Mark Todd Blouson Jackets provided by the Mark Todd Collection.

Lee Hackett, BHS Head of Welfare, said: "By now, everyone involved with horses should know the danger that Ragwort poses. Every year animals die as a result of consuming this deadly plant yet the problem seems to be getting worse.

"Our 2010 survey was a great success and produced some fascinating results that we can use in our lobbying to get some action taken. But we need more data and we are appealing to anyone who cares about equine welfare to become involved in 2011. The survey only takes a couple of minutes to fill out but the information we obtain might just be what we need to effect a substantial change."

For further information and pictures, please contact: Alison Coleman, The British Horse Society, 02476 840463 or a.coleman@bhs.org.uk

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