Animal charity highlights dangers of ragwort

RSPCA representatives across the East region will be working hard this summer to highlight the dangers of ragwort.

The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the effects of ragwort poisoning on horses and livestock.

Just a small intake of ragwort over a long period of time can be just as damaging as a large intake on a single occasion. And sadly ragwort poisoning does not show symptoms until liver damage has occurred and it is usually too late to save the animals.

Animals which ingest ragwort may initially lose weight and suffer from depression, loss of appetite, constipation, sunburn and jaundice.

In the later stages animals may suffer further distressing symptoms including loss of coordination, breathing difficulties, blindness or convulsions.

Simon and Sally Philips from the RSPCA Suffolk East Coast branch are leading the campaign.

Branch chairman Sally Phillips said: “It appears people are still not aware of the dangers ragwort poses to horses or livestock.

“Sadly we know all too well the fatal consequences this weed can have on horses and livestock and it can have an absolutely devastating effect.

“It is heartbreaking when we see fields covered with this potentially lethal plant and it is growing next to where horses or livestock are happily grazing.

“We are certain that if the animals’ owners were aware of the dangers, then they would remove this weed immediately.

“We hope to raise awareness across the East region of the dangers and will be posting leaflets in all local vets and also in branch shops and drawing it to the attention of landowners. RSPCA branches across the East region will be involved and even if this just saves the life of one animal then clearly it will be worth it.”

Flowering of ragwort is from late June onwards to early autumn and it is at this stage that ragwort needs to be destroyed. Where ever possible ragwort should be disposed of on-site. Unlike many poisonous plans ragwort toxins are not destroyed when the plant is killed. So unless you remove and burn all the wilted and dead ragwort from the pasture there is a danger that it can be picked up and eaten.

Ragwort plants can produce up to 150,000 seeds which can remain dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.

Horse and livestock owners that find ragwort on their land are urged to move the animal to another area immediately.

They are then urged to clear the field completely of the ragwort. The best way to remove ragwort is by pulling out each plant individually and then burning it. Then fill the hole left with rock salt which may help to kill any remaining fragments. This work must be done before flowering has finished and preferably before the seeding phase.

Ragwort can be poisonous to humans so take care whenever you come into contact with it. Always wear sturdy waterproof gloves and keep your arms and legs covered. To avoid inhalation of pollen use a facemask.

For large scale infestations, mechanical pulling or herbicides are an alternative option, but collection and removal of dead ragwort following spraying is essential. (Some weed killers can be poisonous to horses so also need to restrict the horses’ access to the area following spraying)

Members of the public can make a complaint about the presence of ragwort under the Weeds Act, but the regulatory bodies in both England and Wales will only investigate cases where there is a risk of spread of any of harmful weeds to agricultural land used by grazing animals. Before a member of the public makes a complaint to anyone they must contact the landowner first.

Anyone wishing to make a complaint about the presence of ragwort in England is advised to contact Natural England www.naturalengland.org.uk

Further information and advice can be found on the RSPCA website at www.rspca.org.uk or http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/horses/health/poisoning