The Weed Act of 1959 requires landowners and occupiers to control the spread of five species of injurious weeds: ragwort, creeping thistle, spear thistle, common dock and curled dock. The Weed Act’s purpose was to increase the productivity of arable land and to protect livestock at a time, post WWII, when self sufficiency seemed at lot more important than ecology.

But a weed is just a plant in the wrong place and these plants, in today’s depleted environment, are often in the right place; too often they are the only plants, any place. Fortunately, they are all prolific providers for our wildlife.

The thistles and ragwort have compound flowers, bursting with nectar and pollen, with flowering seasons that extend well into the autumn. They feed hundreds of different species of invertebrates and are a late summer mainstay for our dwindling bee populations. Their seeds are wind dispersed but while they are waiting for the wind, their sturdy stems easily support seed- eating birds.

Dock leaves feed aphids, the eggs and caterpillars of moths and butterflies, and the larval stages of beetles; their roots feed subterranean larvae like those of swift moths and chafers. Water fowl, finches and all kinds of mice eat the seeds.

All five species are startlingly successful. They can all propagate by root division, they can all survive grazing or mowing, they can all disperse their seeds in more than one way; the seeds of any of them can lie dormant in the soil for many decades, just waiting to take over your paddock or spoil your crop.

All five species are also targeted by the manufacturers of herbicides, and the eradication of any of them from your fields is considered good farming practice. We need to think again about the way we farm. Food is cheap and a loaf of bread costs pennies but we are now paying dearly, in other ways, for that affordability.

Header picture by DKG:
others as attributed

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a ragweek

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