a large clump of ragwort on the coastline at the Bay of Skaill

Ragwort, it seems that there is a massive amount of this plant spreading across many parts of Orkney. Sometimes whole fields are covered in it and it is able to get established in the most hostile of places.

So what’s the story with this plant and why is it so prevalent today ?

Countryfile Magazine calls it one of the most divisive plants in the countryside.

A single plant can contain thousands of seeds and these can disperse into fields.

several ragwort plants along a coastal path

Categories: Science

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6 replies »

  1. The Ragwort Control Act doesn’t “provide a code of practice” it says that “The Minister may make a code of practice for the purpose of providing guidance” and “Before making the code the Minister must consult such persons as he considers appropriate.” and “The Minister must lay a copy of the code before Parliament.” Also when “conservationists argue that removing a native wildflower impoverishes our natural world” they mean that the flowers of this native plant are a vitally important food source for a wide variety of insects. Finally, there is virtually no danger to domestic animals from the live plant as horses, cattle and sheep all know to avoid it. The only danger is when it is dried in hay and is thus easily avoided by the owner of the animals. See especially under “Myth1” where it says “The onus is on owners to ensure dry feed given to horses and cattle is clean and fit to eat – just as with anything else they feed their animals.”

  2. ‘Finally, there is virtually no danger to domestic animals from the live plant as horses, cattle and sheep all know to avoid it.’

    This is simply not true. Whilst the danger is higher in hay, haylage and silage (where animals cannot identify and avoid it), reported losses of horses and cattle in agriculture all across Europe not only show that one cannot just rely on instincts (of our over many centuries domesticated animals) to avoid the plant but also that those losses are high enough that some governments act. Acting does not necessarily mean eradication (because there is a role for this plant in biodiversity) but it means control, hence several countries have placed a notification duty on owners of affected land. Also, local authorities (for example in Austria, Switzerland and Germany) can issue orders to fight it when agricultural land is under threat, neighbouring farmers are affected and so forth.

    As in many aspects of life: things are usually multifaceted, rarely anything comes with a simple yes or no answer.

      • Unfortunately the only thruth in your reply is that sheep are normally less affected, hence can eat the young plants without suffering harm (in most cases at least) and yes, this is sometimes employed as some form of control.
        However, your first sentence is a myth. I would suggest that you read publications (scientific as well as from agricultural organisations) from Germany, France, Austria, Italy and so forth. This is assuming that you speak at least one of those languages…
        Farming associations, such as the Bauernverband, would fiercely reject any claims that they only encounter (cattle) losses when they starve their animals.

      • Perhaps you should read Ohlsen et al, Grazing Ecology of Sheep and Its Impact on Vegetation and Animal Health in Pastures Dominated by Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea L.)—Part 1: Vegetation. Perhaps you might be so kind as to cite one of the papers you purport to refer to.

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