Posted: Wednesday 18 July 2012
by Richard Jones

Ragwort is a native plant, and its biodiversity importance rests on its food-plant status for over 30 insect species.

When is a plant a weed? When it's in the wrong place. When is a weed a pernicious weed? When it's ragwort. Well, that is, according to various landowners who fear poisoning of their horses. There was a campaign a few years ago to raise ragwort's evil reputation to the level of major agricultural pest. Bills were drafted in parliament, lobbying organisations all got up on their own high horses and public relations machinery was set grinding. There was a point when it seemed like even looking at ragwort might become illegal.

This was at a time when invasive and destructive weed mania was on everyone's mind. Japanese knotweed was about to be assaulted by native Far Eastern bugs to try and control it, waterways were being clogged by Himalayan balsam and crassula, and rhododendrons were crowding out ancient woodland plants from grand estates.

Ragwort can cause poisoning in horses, if it's eaten, but mostly, it's not eaten by our equine friends, it's eaten by insects. Ragwort is a native plant, and its biodiversity importance rests on its food-plant status for over 30 insect species. Then there are all the others that visit the flowers after pollen and nectar. My favourites are a scarce, but very pretty picture-wing fly, Icterica westermanni, and of course, the stripy black and yellow caterpillars of the cinnabar moth.

Thankfully, tempers have settled and a kind of semi-hostile but quiet consensus has been reached. Too much ragwort, and you can rip it up, but otherwise, just leave it well alone.

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kaycurtis 19/07/2012 at 22:02

I find Dandilions a particular nuisance weed, people say oh! they are good for bees, I personally have never seen a bee near them, in fact the whole country is clogged up with dandilions as year on year left uncontroled they are taking over not only spare earth but grow up between plants, making it now practically impossible to remove.

Welshonion 21/07/2012 at 13:18

I don't know who Richard Jones the author of the article is but he seems to skate over the damage Ragwort can do.  It appears to have unfettered freedom to grow on roadsides.

It is a notafiable weed.  It must not - but is - be allowed to seed on to neighbouring land.

The real damage it does to ALL grazing animals is through being eaten in hay or silage, where it is palatable.

It causes irreversable internal damage and causes death to grazing animals.

If you are pulling it up on your land or anywhere else, wear gloves, do not handle it, do not put it in council green waste - burn it - and wash your hands thoroughly before handling food.