10 August 2012
The yellow, daisy-like flowers of common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) are very prominent in the countryside this month and the plant can be seen growing on wasteland, roadside verges, railway land, amenity land, conservation areas and woodland.
Ragwort may also be found on land used for grazing horses and other livestock. Poor quality and unmanaged horse pastures are particularly susceptible to high densities of ragwort and every effort should be made to control ragwort and improve pasture management in these situations, as ingestion of ragwort can have fatal consequences for horses.
Where there is a medium or high risk of ragwort spreading to land grazed by livestock or used for the production of forage the owners/occupiers and managers of the land (including private and public land, highways, waterways, railways, conservation and amenity areas and land awaiting development) should put in place and implement a ragwort control policy, which should take account of the nature conservation status and biodiversity attributes of the land. Further advice on controlling ragwort can be found in Defra’s Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort.
It is not illegal to have ragwort growing on land. However, where the potential spread of ragwort poses a high risk to horses or might inadvertently be cut and used in feed for livestock, such as hay, then enforcement action can be taken under the Weeds Act. Where a potential problem is identified contact should first be made with the owner/occupier or relevant organisation responsible for the land on which the ragwort is growing to try to resolve the matter informally. If this fails to resolve the matter, a formal complaint can be made to Natural England.
There are useful pages about ragwort and other injurious weeds on Natural England’s website, we operate the Injurious Weeds Helpline on 0300 0601112 and administer the complaints procedure under the Weeds Act on behalf of Defra. Natural England staff are available to provide information about ragwort issues and to help resolve complaints for our customers where an agreement cannot otherwise be reached. Priority is given to cases where weeds are threatening land used for keeping or grazing horses and other livestock, or farmland used to produce conserved forage or other agricultural activities. Complaints about weeds spreading to private gardens or allotments are not normally investigated.
In many situations ragwort poses no threat to horses and other livestock. In the right place, ragwort contributes to biodiversity and is important for wildlife in the UK. It supports a wide variety of invertebrates and is a major nectar source for many insects. It is a natural component of many types of unimproved grassland and is used by some invertebrate species that have conservation needs.
Ragwort can also be confused with other yellow daisy-like native species. These include St John’s Wort, common fleabane, Goldenrod and Tansy. Guidance on the identification of common ragwort is included in the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort.
Five weeds are classified under the Weeds Act (1959): common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare), creeping or field thistle (Cirsium arvense), broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) and curled dock (Rumex crispus). Please note that we are not able to follow up complaints about weeds not covered by the Weeds Act.