The ragwort plant is a constant danger to horses. Every year the toxic plant causes liver damage to horses who eat it unwittingly – and some will die.
The dangers of ragwort led to laws being introduced – The Weeds Act 1959, Ragwort Control Act 2003. But the tragedies that continue to occur suggest that legislation is perhaps not being enforced and the threat to horses from ragwort is still not being taken seriously enough.
Lee Hackett, British Horse Society Head of Welfare, said: “By now, everyone involved with horses should know the danger that ragwort poses. Every year animals die as a result of consuming this deadly plant yet the problem seems to be getting worse.”
Last year, the British Horse Society organised a nationwide survey to try and uncover the true picture of how widespread the weed is and where it is found.
Now a second survey is being held next month (July) as the horse charity believes that hard facts are the best weapon in the fight against the weed and the suffering it causes for horses and their owners.
Last year’s survey found that more than three quarters of reports of ragwort involved land that animals were grazing on or near. It was reckoned that a total of 13,189 horses were grazing on ragwort-infested pasture. In more than one third of reports, the plant was said to cover at least half of the land.
Hampshire had more ragwort than any other county in England, according to the survey, closely followed by Surrey, Cheshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
There were also reported problems in Clwyd, in Wales, and Strathclyde, in Scotland.
The BHS hopes to hold the survey annually in the same week to build up a picture of if, and how, ragwort is spreading.
BHS Ragwort Awareness Week is July 11-17 and anyone who spots ragwort during this period is asked to fill in a form on the BHS website, www.bhs.org.uk.
Mr Hackett added: “Our 2010 survey was a great success and produced some fascinating results that we can use in our lobbying to get some action taken. But we need more data and we are appealing to anyone who cares about equine welfare to become involved in 2011.
“The survey only takes a couple of minutes to fill out but the information we obtain might just be what we need to effect a substantial change.”