Ragwort causing animal owners concern

THE deadly weed, ragwort, growing in fields and local roadsides is causing concern among animal owners.

Known as ‘yellow weed’, the toxic plant can kill horses, farm and wild animals.

Former science laboratory technician Pauline Anderson of Gordon said: “It’s law that landowners should control ragwort but over the last 10 years things seem to have lapsed and ragwort is becoming common in the countryside and landowners are not doing anything to control it.”

She looks after nine miniature Shetland ponies near Oxton and fears landowner ignorance might be the reason why the weed is spreading

She told us: “Control of ragwort is a legal requirement and most landowners do not carry out any control of this toxic weed, partly due to trying to avoid the time, trouble and expense but many through ignorance and this is among owners of horses as well.”

And Mrs Anderson is also disappointed by what she says is inaction by the council. .

She commented: “Every summer I email the council and ask if they have a programme for controlling it and I am assured they do but I don’t see any evidence of it, I see ragwort growing by the roadside - and if it’s growing there, it is growing elsewhere.”

Under the 1959 Weeds Act, councils have to remove the plant from land they own.

Tweeddale councillor Catriona Bhatia was also concerned about the proliferation of the weed in the region and raised the issue at a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s full council meeting last Thursday.

She asked how the council was fulfilling its obligations to remove the weed and whether it had served notices on landowners allowing the poisonous plant to grow on their land.

Councillor Jim Fullarton, executive member for roads, replied: “The council has responsibilities under the Weeds Act 1959 to deal with ragwort on its own land. Resources are only deployed to deal with ragwort on an ad hoc basis reacting to areas of public concern or reported areas of high outbreak throughout the Borders area.”

Concerning serving notices, he said: “Our understanding of the legislation is that the council is not the enforcing authority and would not be responsible for issuing notices on land owners. That authority rests with ministers in the Scottish Government.”

Mrs Anderson said the plant flowered earlier than usual this year and started turning to seed earlier.

“Now the seeds are being spread and nobody is doing anything to control it. There is a statutory law that says landowners must control it: if somebody was taken to court for it maybe everybody else would sit up and think ‘oh I should do something about that’,” she said.

The former science technician at Earlston high school has previously looked after Thoroughbred brood mares and ridden out for Galashiels racehorse trainer Bill Hughes

She added: “The sap can be irritable to hands if you pull up the plants. I worry about kids saying ‘this is a pretty flower Mummy, let’s pick them’ . If they are susceptible to the sap it could be quite nasty for little ones.”

Alkaloids in the plant attack animal’s livers and although most animals avoid the living weed, it becomes more palatable and attractive to them when cut or dried. Ragwort is the preferred food of the rare cinnabar moth’s caterpillar.