Ragwort Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ragwort?

Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is a poisonous weed native to the UK and can be found growing in areas of low fertility soils such as grasslands, roadsides, railways and rubbish tips. Please note, it is different from Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus) that is a non-native species.

What does Ragwort look like?

Ragwort can grow to heights of 90cm topped with flat, densely clustered yellow flowers. Most species of Ragwort are biennial – taking two years to fully grow and flower although it is known to behave like a perennial (flowering annually) if the stems are cut or mown. During its lifecycle Ragwort produces rosettes of elongated, jagged dark green leaves.

Why is Ragwort a problem?

Being a poisonous weed, Ragwort poses a threat to many grazing animals. Most animals will avoid eating Ragwort if there is an alternative food source, however problems can arise if Ragwort is present on overgrazed pastures. Horses are particularly susceptible to poisoning and although living Ragwort is only consumed if there is little else to eat, hay contaminated with dried out fragments of Ragwort poses a significant and sometimes fatal threat.

What damage can Ragwort cause?

Once ragwort is consumed its toxins are absorbed in the intestines and begin to cause significant damage to the liver. Affected liver cells are unable to multiply and become fibrous, eventually resulting in complete failure of the organ. It is often difficult to detect the damaging effects of Ragwort poisoning in horses and cattle before it becomes incurable and the development of liver disease can occur months after consumption of small quantities.

How can you kill Ragwort?

To avoid the significant risks associated with Ragwort, control and eradication of outbreaks in sensitive areas can be achieved in a number of ways. Plants can be hand-pulled or mechanically dug out from affected soil but this will only temporarily remedy the problem as any remaining roots can result in recurring growth. Chemical application can successfully result in the elimination of Ragwort if applied correctly; however the use of herbicides should only administered after a full risk assessment of the surrounding environment and applied by trained and competent persons.

How can I prevent Ragwort spreading?

Adult Ragwort can produce between up to 175,000 viable seeds which are dispersed by the wind or by simply dropping to ground level close to the parent plant. Ragwort is also capable of spreading through its underground root network and therefore can be difficult to control and prevent spreading if allowed to become well established. In order to successfully halt the spread of Ragwort any outbreaks must be addressed as soon as possible using the control methods stated above. By giving Ragwort the opportunity to gain a foothold in an area where it could threaten horses or cattle, preventing spread can become a laborious and time-consuming process.

Can I plant Ragwort?

Ragwort is a native species of the UK and as a result must be respected as a major contributor of nectar to a number of insects and invertebrates. A balance must be established, however, to ensure that Ragwort cannot become established in areas where it may pose a threat to grazing animals. Under the Weeds Act 1959, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of the land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of poisonous weeds. Although planting Ragwort on private land is not necessarily a problem, it can raise legal concerns if there was possibility of it spreading to threaten neighbouring livestock. Interestingly, because Ragwort is a native flower, if someone “intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in schedule 8” without the landowner’s permission then they will be in contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.