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    Guidance on the Disposal Options for Common Ragwort
19/09/05

Landowners were today (Monday 19 September) offered new guidelines for getting rid of ragwort - a poisonous plant which kills hundreds of horses each year.

The guide, published by Rural Affairs Minister Jim Knight, offers help and advice on how to dispose of the weed correctly and stop its re-growth.

The document, Guidance on the Disposal Options for Common Ragwort, was drawn up for Defra by consultants ADAS. It supplements the advice given in the Code of Practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort, which was published last year following the introduction of the Ragwort Control Act 2003.

The guidelines include advice on how to dispose of ragwort from all types of land and highlights that incorrect disposal is likely to result in further spread through seed dispersal and re-growth in root sections. The guide also stresses the importance of early and effective control.

Jim Knight, Minister for the Horse Industry, said today: "I welcome this guidance on the disposal options for ragwort, which follows up the work Defra carried out last year on the Code of Practice. Responsible disposal is an essential part of the chain in controlling ragwort and reducing the welfare risk to horses and other animals from the threat of ragwort poisoning."

The publication of the guidance ties in with The British Horse Society's Ragwort Awareness Week, from September 19-23.

Helen Owens, the BHS's Senior Executive for Welfare, said: "This important document is very welcome and chimes with The British Horse Society's ongoing campaign to reduce the risks faced by horse and other animals from this weed. We have produced leaflets and posters to raise awareness and educate land owners on these dangers and the responsible disposal of ragwort."

1. Ragwort is one of five injurious weeds specified in the Weeds Act 1959. If eaten, ragwort causes long-term cumulative liver damage in livestock and other animals, and can have potentially fatal consequences. Exact numbers of deaths are difficult to determine as the liver needs to be dissected.

2. The Weeds Act 1959 empowers the Secretary of State to take action to prevent the spread of Common Ragwort and the other four injurious weeds covered by the Act (Creeping or Field Thistle, Spear Thistle, Curled Dock and Broad-Leaved Dock).

3. The Weeds Act does not make it an offence to permit injurious weeds to grow on land. Under the Act, the Secretary of State has a permissive power to serve a notice on an occupier of any land on which one of the fine injurious weeds is growing requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the weeds from spreading. The Act permits officials to enter land to inspect whether an enforcement notice has been complied with. If an occupier has unreasonably failed to comply with the notice he or she shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction liable to a fine. Where the occupier fails to take clearance action, the Secretary of State may take action to arrange for the weeds to be removed and to recover the cost of doing so, if necessary through the Courts.

4. The Ragwort Control Act came into force on 20 February 2004 and amends the Weeds Act. The Act enables the Secretary of State to make a Code of Practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to prevent the spread of Common Ragwort. Defra worked with stakeholders, such as The British Horse Society, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Network Rail, the Local Government Association, English Nature and the British Beekeepers Association to prepare the Code of Practice, which was published in July last year.

5. Defra investigates complaints about ragwort and the other injurious weeds where there is a threat to land used for the keeping or grazing of horses and other animals, land used for the production of conserved forage and other agricultural activities. In all cases, Defra would expect the complainant to have made contact with the owner/occupier of the land on which the weeds are growing to resolve the matter informally, before making a complaint to Defra. Complaints about injurious weeds are dealt with by Defra's Rural Development Service at Bristol and Crewe. (Telephone: Bristol 0117-959-8622 and Crewe: 01270 754262.)

Public enquiries 08459 335577

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DEFRA
Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs