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Ragwort: Friend or Foe?

Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation issue guidance on how to deal with common ragwort.

August 02 2013

A bee feeds on ragwort © Beth Halski

A bee feeds on ragwort © Beth Halski

The yellow plant is deadly to horses but is vital for butterflies and other insects. As such the charities say it should only be removed from land where it poses a risk to grazing animals.

What’s the problem?

Common ragwort Senecio jacobaea is a native plant with yellow, daisy-like flowers. It is extremely toxic to grazing animals, particularly horses, where it results in irreversible liver damage.

Why protect ragwort?

As a natural part of our countryside, ragwort supports many species of wildlife, including fungi and insects, which depend on it for their survival. It is a valuable source of nectar for butterflies, moths and hoverflies and is the sole food plant of Cinnabar Moth, a Priority Species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

What’s the solution?

There is no evidence that ragwort is increasing but, in an attempt to target the effective removal of plants from grazing land and to increase public awareness of its many benefits to biodiversity, a detailed guidance leaflet is now available.

“It is, of course, sensible to remove ragwort from grazing land" says Dr Deborah Long, Programme Manager for Plantlife Scotland "but in other habitats it should be recognised as a valuable native plant which has a rightful place in our landscape. We encourage landowners to take the time to identify Ragwort correctly as there have been unfortunate cases where other wild flowers, such as St John’s Wort and Tansy, have been destroyed needlessly as part of ragwort removal programmes”.

“We appreciate the devastating effect this plant can have on horses" adds Dr Nigel Bourne of Butterfly Conservation "but in some places, this plant is the only good nectar source for beneficial insects. The Cinnabar Moth and several other insects are totally dependent on ragwort”.

To download a free leaflet on how to manage ragwort, please click the link below: