East Anglia:CLA issues warning over ragwort threat

THE Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the East of England is calling on all occupiers of land to take effective action to halt the spread of the deadly weed, ragwort, where it poses a threat to the welfare of horses and livestock.

Ragwort poisoning can have a damaging and sometimes lethal effect on horses, cattle and other animals, potentially causing serious liver damage.

Tim Isaac of CLA East said farmers and rural landowners were taking effective action but the weed was also to be found in areas such as roadside verges and amenity land.

The CLA was reminding organisations such as highway authorities, utilities and local councils that they were under a legal obligation to control ragwort, he added.

“Common ragwort is a specified weed mentioned in the Weeds Act 1959,” said Mr Isaac. “It is also covered by The Ragwort Control Act 2003 which provides a Code of Practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort.

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“Under the Acts, responsibility for the control of the weed rests with the occupier of the land and there is a statutory procedure that can be used by Defra in the event of inaction to compel them to take appropriate steps. An unreasonable failure to comply with a notice is an offence.

“This pernicious weed with its familiar bright yellow flower is again prominent this summer. It has appeared on highway, waterway and railway verges, as well as amenity and some pasture land.

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“The CLA has long campaigned to convince government and local authorities that effective action to control ragwort is needed. But in spite of positive responses from the landowning and farming community, the weed continues its march across the eastern counties and beyond.

“A concerted effort is needed by all land occupiers, but especially highway authorities and utilities, to help clear this menace where it poses a threat to the welfare of horses and livestock.”

Mr Isaac added: “Farmers and landowners must also be aware of the requirements of Cross Compliance under which land managers must take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of common ragwort, spear thistle, creeping thistle, broad-leaved dock and curled dock.

“Failure to comply may affect direct payments, including the Single Farm Payment (SPS), and in certain circumstances may exclude them from the SPS and other aid schemes in that year and the next year.”

Defra’s “Code of Practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort” (Defra, 2004) provides comprehensive guidance on how to develop a strategic and cost-effective approach to weed control. The code does not seek to eradicate ragwort, but to control it where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals.

For copies of the Code and more information on ragwort contact the Wildlife Species Conservation Division of Defra on 0117 372 6154. You can download a copy of the code from http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb9840-cop-ragwort.pdf

To make a complaint about ragwort contact Natural England, Customer Services, North Gate House, Valpy Street, Reading, RG1 6AF or T: 0300 060 1112 : cs.reading@naturalengland.org.uk (mark Weeds Act).

If roadside verges and waste land are affected, you can also contact your Unitary Authority or County Council. If it is on motorways or trunk roads you can take your complaint to the Highways Agency (0300 123 5000). For other roads, complain to the local Highways Authority. For railway land and embankments, call Network Rail (08457 114141).

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