Horse charity issues urgent ragwort plea

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AN ANIMAL charity is urging Borders horse lovers to take part in a national survey in a bid to combat toxic plant ragwort, writes Sally Gillespie.

The British Horse Society (BHS) is concerned about the thousands of horses grazing in ragwort-affected fields as the plant is a cumulative poison to the animals.

A BHS spokesperson said: “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 apparently 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.”

The charity started its annual survey in 2010 when more than 13,000 horses were found to be grazing on infested pasture. Last year nationally, nearly 21,000 horses were grazing on or near pastures containing ragwort.

Alkaloids in the plant attack the livers of horses, cattle and sheep, and although most animals avoid the living weed, it becomes more palatable and attractive when cut or dried.

But ragwort is the preferred food of the rare cinnabar moth’s caterpillar and conservationists stress the importance of the plant.

By conducting the survey annually, BHS says it hopes to get more information on ragwort proliferation and so strengthen the argument to control it.

The charity hopes people will fill in their survey online at www.bhs.org.uk during what they’ve dubbed BHS Ragwort Awareness Week, which ends on Sunday.

The charity’s senior welfare executive, Lee Hackett said: “Everybody involved with horses should know the danger posed by ragwort. Despite this we get hundreds of reports each year of horses’ health being put at risk by grazing them in ragwort-infested fields. This suggests that the education message is not getting through and that the existing legislation is not being enforced.

“Our surveys so far have been a great success, but we need far more data to help us get a handle on the true prevalence of ragwort.

“We recognise that ragwort has its place within our ecosystem, but that place is not anywhere near horses.”