Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is a native species of the British Isles. It is a natural and valuable component of the countryside’s wildlife. However it can pose a danger to horses and other grazing animals as it contains toxins that have debilitating or fatal consequences for livestock. It is therefore considered a weed where it grows in close proximity to livestock or the growth of fodder. It is of particular concern in areas such as the New Forest where livestock graze extensive areas and there is a widespread and valuable equine economy.

Like other members of the ragwort family, common ragwort has bright yellow, daisy-like flowers that usually appear between June and late October, after which the plant dies. There are other yellow flowered plants that occur within the New Forest that might be confused with common ragwort and which do not pose a threat to livestock e.g. common fleabane.

What the law says

Like certain other weed species, common ragwort is identified in the Weeds Act 1959. It is also the subject of the Ragwort Control Act 2003. Responsibility for control rests with the occupier of land where ragwort is growing.

A national code of practice for England has been produced by DEFRA and is important in applying the 2003 Act. It contains useful guidance on situations where there is an identifiable risk to animals and means of control. The Code of Practice states that it is expected that all landowners, occupiers and managers will co-operate and take collective responsibility for ensuring that effective control of the spread of common ragwort is achieved.

Who does what?

As a result of the Weeds Act, Natural England is enabled to investigate complaints where there is a risk of weeds spreading to land used for grazing horses or livestock, land used for forage production and other agricultural activities.

Hampshire County Council is responsible for common ragwort clearance and weed control on the highways network, apart from motorways and trunk roads, which are the responsibility of the Highways Agency.

For any ragwort seen on the A31 verges or central reservation, contact Highways England via info@highwaysengland.co.uk or 0300 123 5000.

The Forestry Commission controls ragwort on the Crown Lands in the New Forest National Park.  Every year it deploys staff and volunteers to control ragwort where it is considered to be a risk.

How you can help

It is best to take action to prevent establishment of common ragwort where it is a risk to livestock than to take emergency action where an infestation of the plant has been established.

Advice on control strategies is available in the Code of Practice and from organisations such as the British Horse Society.

The New Forest Land Advice Service (NFLAS) can also offer local advice on control.

All wilted and dead ragwort must be removed from pastures or where it could be accessed by livestock as it is more palatable and will be eaten readily by grazing animals. It is particularly important not to pull and leave ragwort on the Open Forest due to the danger to Commoners’ stock.

Related links

Hampshire County Council
Defra - code of practice
British Horse Society
New Forest Land Advice Service

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