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IN THE FIELD WITH DARREN GREATBATCH
By Jennifer Holmes

IN THE FIELD WITH DARREN GREATBATCH

COMMON RAGWORT

Darren Greatbatch (left), our Specialist Advisory Manager (Invasive & Amenity Weeds) took Eugene, one of our surveyors on a ragwort training session in the beautiful Welsh countryside. What a location! Whilst many miles were covered up and down the valleys, it shows just how prevalent Common ragwort can be when left alone.

What is Common ragwort?

Classed as an ‘injurious’ weed, due to its toxicity levels, this species can grow up to 1m high, stems are tough and often tinged red/purple near the base, with characteristic dark green leaves and yellow daisy-like flowers. As a perennial the above ground growth completely dies off in winter, but it’s during the growing season it does its damage – with each plant producing up to 150,000 seeds and with a 70% germination rate you can see how a large area of land can quickly be covered. What’s more, its seeds remain dormant in the soil for up to 20 years – making Ragwort a real issue for farmers and landowners.

However, where there is no threat to animal welfare, Common ragwort is a native species and makes an important contribution to the biodiversity of the countryside. More on the Ragwort Act.

The importance of onsite training

For these reasons, training our teams is extremely important, as handling the plant is a health and safety matter. Whilst we do provide online modules that all staff (even office based) must undertake, training for noxious species is best done out in the field with demonstrations of how to carry out treatment safely.

Darren has many years’ of experience in dealing with noxious weeds, so he is usually the person to take our surveyors on these sessions.

In his own words: “Onsite training ensures our surveyors are pro-active in the field and are able to identify other INNS. It gives them the confidence to understand more about the environment in which the species grow, its growth stages and potential impact on the site/location.”

A natural predator

Common ragwort can often be identified by the presence of Cinnabar moth caterpillars (Tyria jacobaeae), as these caterpillars feed almost exclusively on Ragwort. The caterpillars are very distinctive with black with gold stripes, and grow up to 30mm long. Darren was lucky enough to catch several in action.

A most toxic plant

Ragwort is one of the most frequent causes of plant poisoning of livestock in Britain, with equines and bovines being more susceptible than others – particularly the young. It can also be poisonous to people and has been suspected of causing liver damage in those who seek to pull the plant without the benefit of protective clothing. Ragwort acts as a cumulative poison, eventually destroying the liver, and a small intake of ragwort over a long period can be just as damaging as a large intake on a single occasion. Be very careful around this plant!

If you’d like to know more about Ragwort, or you’d like us to carry out a survey on land that you suspect may have Ragwort let us know contact@knotweed.co.uk