How to get rid of Common ragwort
By Jennifer Holmes

How to get rid of Common ragwort

What is ragwort?

Common ragwort is one of five injurious weeds specified under the Weeds Act 1959. and the Ragwort Control Act 2003. Ragworts (Senecio spp.) are poisonous weeds of which Senecio jacobaea (Common ragwort) is the most common. Growing up to 3ft tall with clusters of bright yellow flowers, this invasive plant is an impressive sight. But this plant comes with some warnings, read on…

Are there legalities around growing ragwort?

Yes – it is a legal requirement to remove ragwort if it is deemed as causing issues for landowners, where it presents a high risk of poisoning horses and livestock or spreading to fields used for the production of forage. Failure to follow this could be used as evidence in any legal action, but if you can prove that measures have been adopted to control or eradicate ragwort fines can be avoided.

However, it is not illegal to grow ragwort in your garden, though we would not recommend this for several reasons;

  • Ragwort is difficult to get rid of once it becomes established.
  • It spreads very quickly.
  • It can reach 3ft in height.
  • Being an invasive weed it will out-compete other plants.

The Ragwort health risk!

Ragwort needs to be removed from areas with animals or pets, horses or livestock for several reasons:

  • Ragwort contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which causes cumulative liver damage which can lead to death.
  • When it dies back in the Autumn its dry stalks can be mistaken for hay by foraging animals, livestock or horses, which if eaten can be fatal.
  • Cultivated hay containing ragwort and fed to horses and livestock can also be fatal.
  • Ragwort when touched with bare hands can cause health issues.
  • Ragwort is poisonous to dogs if accidentally ingested, even the smallest amount should be treated as an emergency.

More than 700 horse deaths due to ragwort ingestion have been recorded since the ragwort was listed under the Weeds Act.

How can ragwort be treated?

Ragwort can be treated with planned applications of herbicide which, over time, will render the plant unviable. Using the right herbicide will ensure the plant is killed off but not affecting the grass.

Ragwort can also be mechanically excavated or manually pulled up – this method is often used after the herbicide treatment has killed off the above ground plant.

IMPORTANT: When handling ragwort protective gloves and clothing must be worn to avoid contact with bare skin.

Biological control is effective as a longer-term solution as the Cinnabar moth caterpillars (Tyria jacobaeae) seen below will happily feed on it all summer.

What to do if you see ragwort

This one really is best left to the experts.

Whilst it can be tempting to try and dig it up yourself, the risks associated with this toxic plant must be considered. If you’re not sure it’s ragwort upload some images below to have free identification supplied by our INNS experts.