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Welsh pony


Saturday, 12th October 2002, West Yorkshire

common ragwortAfter six mainly dry weeks it is raining continuously. While writing up yesterday's diary I sit at the desk by the studio window and sketch one of the Welsh ponies (above) which is standing, looking rather fed up, in the meadow. I don't realise that this will be my last chance to look out and draw them. They are being moved to a field down the road today. cinnabar moth caterpillars Common ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, is a weed of neglected pastures. Its yellow daisy-like flowers attract hoverflies while its ragged leaves (and the flowers) provide food for the cinnabar moth caterpillar. Like the cinnabar moth itself all parts of the plant are poisonous. Because of the danger to grazing stock ragwort is a notifiable weed and you can be fined if you don't take steps to eradicate it when ordered to do so.

cinnabar moth Oxford ragwort, a smaller relation of common, is still in flower at roadsides and on wasteground but the flowers of common ragwort have now died back and its leaves are starting to shrivel. I guess that it is probably more dangerous in this state because the ponies, browsing the last flush of growth in the meadow, might be more likely to take a mouthful of its shrivelled leaves. It sounds pretty awful but I've seen them munching on prickly holly leaves, fence tops and even old Christmas trees.

Bevan The previous Welsh pony that was kept in this meadow, Bevan, showed symptoms of poisoning. An emergency tracheotomy in the field helped him rally, but he died soon after. Now that ragwort is spreading again it's not worth the risk of keeping the ponies there.

Ragwort Poisoning

14/09/2011: My thanks to Phil Patton for the following comments on the sad death of Bevan. In 2002 I recorded what I'd heard about the circumstances of Bevan's death - I wasn't actually present myself - and, in terms of Ragwort's status as a weed, what I took to be 'common knowledge' at the time. There's now a lively debate about the dangers of Ragwort poisoning to stock and to humans, but, as I've said elsewhere, I'm not qualified to make any informed comments about it.

Ragwort: a 'notifiable weed'?

"Because of the danger to grazing stock ragwort is a notifiable weed"

That's absolutely false Although the term "notifiable weed" seems to be a favourite with council websites and other offenders, it has no basis in law. It's even come up in a question in the house of commons.

There is, in fact, no such thing as a notifiable weed in England and Wales and, I'm pretty sure, the whole of the UK. I'll be happy to back that up with a longer explanation of the relevant laws and citations.

"you can be fined if you don't take steps to eradicate it when ordered to do so."

Strictly speaking, this is true, but I'd question the tone, and it is incomplete. "Ordered to do so"? by whom? Not by your neighbour or the council.

It is possible that DEFRA could investigate a complaint from another land owner if it is a high risk, agree with a complainant.

Natural England can serve a notice to control the ragwort under the Injurious Weeds Act (1959). I'm trying to get stats from them of how many complaints are made, upheld and notices served.

They did immediately, and without hesitation, confirm what I already knew, though ... there is no such thing as a "notifiable" weed or plant.

"The previous Welsh pony that was kept in this meadow, Bevan, showed symptoms of poisoning."

Common Ragwort poisoning? That's very sad. I say that genuinely. I believe that common ragwort poses risks to livestock when it's too close or in their feed ... especially in their feed, but the scale of the problem has been hugely exaggerated.

Was the death confirmed as common ragwort poisoning in any way? Unfortunately, the only way to determine it is a diagnosis of elimination after an autopsy. A tracheotomy seems a strange course of action if it were in response to liver damage. I'm not a vet, but it strikes me as bizarre. Perhaps it's not.

Phil Patton, 19 August 2011

I think it unlikely that there was an autopsy on Bevan. A sad end to a pony with an adventurous browsing habit, nibbling anything from Christmas trees to fence posts.

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Here's another comment that I received some years ago:


Ragtime Memories

From Anne Rothwell

I was taken aback to learn from him that pulling 2nd year ragwort by hand can result in toxins entering the body by crossing the skin-barrier, and can subsequently cause damage to the liver. You see, the reason I was taken by surprise, and not a little concerned,is the awareness that all the members of my family who were strong enough, (probably an increasing number year on year) were employed in trying to rid our pastures of ragwort by grasping the long strong stalks, and pulling the cluster of adventitious roots out as a clump. This was during the 1950s. We are all a year or two older now (!) but none of us has had cause to have our liver or its function examined.

I wonder were we all (at least three in number, possibly as many as five, plus two of the generation older than us) very lucky? Do we happen to have some kind of rare immunity such as Tony Hancock would have been proud of, or do we just assume that the strain of ragwort involved was less toxic? The pony suffered no ill effects , nor the cows, as far as we know, though we left the pulled plants to wither where we had pulled them.


Note: This correspondence is now closed. Please use your favourite search engine to follow the online debate about Ragwort and keep up with the latest medical and veterinary advice.


DEFRA code of practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort

Richard Bell
Richard Bell, wildlife illustrator E-mail; ''