Horses: The pretty poisoner

Ragwort - good for insects, potentially deadly to horses (Thinkstock)

Ragwort - good for insects, potentially deadly to horses (Thinkstock) - Credit: Archant

Ragwort can cause fatal liver damage to horses – it’s up to horse owners, land owners and the public to help remove it from grazing areas, says the British Horse Society

Summer is here, and while the countryside in full bloom brings joy to many it can cause deep concern for horse owners battling with ragwort.

Ragwort is a common weed with bright yellow flowers which is a common site in UK countryside in the summer. To most people it doesn’t cause any harm. However, horses (like other livestock) can be susceptible to ragwort poisoning, which damages the liver and can be fatal. While horses won’t immediately choose to eat ragwort they may do so if grass growth is poor and there is nothing else to eat in their field or paddock.

The British Horse Society aims to warn all horse owners and members of the public about the dangers of ragwort and the necessary steps to avoid horses becoming poisoned by the weed.

The society does not advocate blanket removal of ragwort. The plant plays a significant role in biodiversity, providing a habitat and food for many types of insect, plus pollen for bees. It has an important place in the British ecosystem in areas away from livestock grazing or forage production land and should only be removed from high-risk areas where horses are within 50m of where the weed is growing.

Here are some useful guidelines to follow for horse owners, landowners and the public:

• When removing ragwort always wear gloves and a face mask to reduce the risk of the toxins being inhaled or absorbed into the skin

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• Don’t leave ragwort in a field once it has been pulled, it becomes more palatable to horses when dried out and the toxins will remain in the plant.

• If you own land within 50m of where horses grazing then consider removing ragwort using the methods outlined above.

• It is the responsibility of the landowner or occupier to remove ragwort if it is growing in a high risk area (Weeds Act 1959).

• A 2014 survey showed that 55 per cent of respondents had taken no action when they had seen ragwort growing on land that they did not themselves own – the main reasons being that they did not • know who to contact and they did not think they would be listened to.

• If you approach a landowner and the situation is not resolved then contact Natural England. It will advise on the best course of action.

• Contact the British Horse Soiety welfare team if you have any concerns.

Visit for more information and to download a ragwort toolkit.

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July 17 Lilley Park and Ride

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