We understand the ecological importance of ragwort as a late season source of nectar and pollen. We know that there is much discussion, online and off, about its conservation value, the level of its toxicity and whether or not it should be subject to legislation. As it stands, Wiltshire Council is obliged, as the landowner, to comply with the 1959 and 2003 Acts which require that the spread of ragwort be controlled. Usually we are able to manage it by hand-pulling but not this year.

Complying with the 1959 and 2003 Acts

Ragwort is extraordinarily successful; all the “injurious weeds” named in the 1959 Weed Act are. When allowed to flower and set seed, ragwort is biennial. As a biennial, its life cycle is spread over two years; it flowers in its second year and after setting its seed the plant usually dies. These are general rules; ragwort is very adaptable and can flower in its first year as it did in response to last year’s drought or can just refuse stubbornly to die at the end of its second year. There are studies that show up to 70% of ragwort plants will persist after they have flowered.

It is a survival specialist and has two distinct methods of reproduction, both with a clever twist. Firstly, according to the RHS, a plant can produce as many as an astonishing 50-60,000 seeds in a year; each is provided with a parachute for wind distribution but some also have hairs that will enable them to latch onto animal fur or birds’ feathers.

The seeds come in variable weights depending on where on the flower-head they develop; the lightest will blow away many metres but the heaviest, produced at the end of the season, will fall straight down into the space that will be left when the parent plant dies. The twist: seeds can wait in the soil for twenty years before they germinate; your field, ragwort-free for a decade, will suddenly be full of poisonous yellow flowers buzzing with invertebrates.

Secondly, ragwort can reproduce vegetatively; any attempt at digging up or pulling out during its growing season will result in every last little piece of root left behind making a new plant. The twist here is that if you cut it down to prevent the flowers making seed, it can become a perennial, vegetatively producing new clones at the outer edges of its root system until it is allowed to flower and seed. It wins coming and going.

Conservation status: common and widespread

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  1. The information in your article above is unequivocally INCORRECT. You are misinforming the public and by your own admission unnecessarily damaging a biodiversity resource contrary to a very real obligation which you have under the NERC Act.

    The Weeds Act 1959 most emphatically DOES NOT place an automatic requirement on you to control ragwort.

    You may be ordered to control it, but in the absence of one of these rare legal orders there is no obligation on anyone to do anything. See https://www.ragwortfacts.com/ragwort-law.html

    The Ragwort Control Act only provides for the creation of guidance which you do not have to follow.
    See https://www.ragwortfacts.com/ragwort-control-act.html

    That guidance is based on crazy risk statistics from a proven unreliable source and DEFRA themselves have declared it out of date. See https://web.archive.org/web/20160510161452/https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/code-of-practice-on-how-to-prevent-the-spread-of-ragwort

    The figure of 150,000 seeds is a gross exaggeration of the real number of seeds created and has been banned in the past from an advert by the Advertising Standards Authority.

    1. I will make sure that your comment reaches the landowner, Wiltshire Council, but I expect that The Countryside and Rights of Way Team that manages the reserve fully understands the legal difference between obligation and guidance. Your links seem to lead to copies of the 1959 and 2003 Acts published on your own website and to a gov.uk page of guidance that was withdrawn in 2016. Here is a link to gov.uk’s latest guidance: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/stop-ragwort-and-other-harmful-weeds-from-spreading.
      Thank you for the heads-up on the 150,000 seeds – I will fact-check it and publish a correction if need be.

      1. What you describe as ‘latest guidance’ was slapped together by junior civil servants at Defra with little or no grasp of law, botany, toxicology or much else. It is of no legal standing.

  2. There is no general requirement for Wiltshire Council, or any body else to control Common Ragwort. The Weeds Act 1959 merely allows the Minister to issue an order requiring an occupier of land to control an injurious weed. The Ragwort Control Act 2003 merely amended the 1959 Act to purport to allow the Minister to issue guidance. Said guidance was withdrawn in 2016, not that anybody was ever obliged to take any notice of it. (What purports to be guidance on the Defra website is not guidance under the legislation.)

    1. I will pass your comment on to Wiltshire Council, the landowner; thank you.
      The land is rented to a farmer who takes one or two grass crops from it every year. Neither the Council nor the community could afford to manage the reserve in any other way. The tenant farmer is very restricted in what he is allowed to do, but he IS entitled to a saleable crop. If the hay is full of ragwort, he is unable to sell it; if the fields are full of ragwort the Council will not find another tenant; without a tenant farmer to manage its grassland, the reserve’s future would be at risk.

      1. Thank you for admitting the herbicide use is for financial reasons. If the land is used for commercial hay production why pretend that it is a country park?

        1. The park is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), meeting all Natural England’s requirements, including in the matter of ragwort management. The land is not farmed for the county’s commercial benefit, the land is farmed so that it can be maintained as an LNR supporting a meadowland habitat.

          1. Firstly it is claimed that there is a legal requirement to remove ragwort. There is not.
            Then it is admitted that ragwort is removed for commercial reasons.
            Now you are blaming Natural England.

      1. Aha, I see. It i about seeds. I quote ” A single plant can produce 150 000 seeds with a 70% germination success rate.” But it is really out of context. We wrote a page about this https://ragwort.org.uk/facts-or-myths/7-i/17-many-seeds-many-plants it is on the translated website from the Dutch one. I paste one alinea in this.

        “The faith of a seed

        We know that Common ragwort can produce many seeds and that a small fraction of these seeds can travel large distances . But if all of these seeds would grow into adult plants, the Netherlands would already be covered with a dense layer of ragwort (7). In controlled conditions, such as in a greenhouse with an optimal humidity and temperature, about 80% of the seeds will germinate (7). In nature, however, circumstances are never as perfect as in a greenhouse (7). Chances are small that a seed will land on a spot that has conditions favorable for germination. It may, for instance, be too dry or too wet, or there may not be enough light (7). Even if a seed germinates, it is still the question whether it will live long enough to develop into an adult plant (7). Seedlings have to compete with other plants for light and nutrients and only the strongest plants will survive. A part of the seeds will get a second chance if they fail to germinate in the first growth season (10). If these seeds are covered by soil, they may become dormant. The seeds in this seedbank can retain the potential to germinate for up to ten years and perhaps even for decades (10). When soil disturbance causes these seeds to surface, this will induce germination (10).”

        It is an often repeated misunderstanding of biology.

          1. In the original statement in the source {The biology and non-chemical control of Common Ragwort
            (Senecio jacobaea L.)W Bond, G Davies, R Turner HDRA, Ryton Organic Gardens, Coventry, CV8, 3LG, UK 2007} is about defoliating by caterpillars. We know that caterpillars don’t kill the plant. But also interesting is that all the stuff people do to get rid of the plant make the opposite if overgrazing still exist. See the same paper. https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/sites/www.gardenorganic.org.uk/files/organic-weeds/senecio-jacobaea.pdf Sheepgrazing is also mentioned as a control option.

  3. Ragwort update from Wiltshire Council:

    Wiltshire Council is asking the public to avoid using Southwick Country Park on 5th/6th May due to the spraying of Magneto herbicide to control ragwort. The work will take place as soon as possible, and provided the weather isn’t windy or wet, and notices onsite will be updated with the latest information.

    Ragwort can cause serious liver damage to livestock if ingested, so landowners/occupiers have a responsibility to prevent it from spreading to neighbouring farmland. For the last few years it has been controlled in the Park by hand pulling, but this year it is clear there will be too much to pull out by hand with the resources we have.

    We ask that the public avoid the Park on 5th/6th May while the spraying is taking place, and apologise for the inconvenience that these works cause.

    Access to Hope Nature Centre is unaffected by the works.

    1. Animals that might be harmed by eating ragwort, a native wildflower, do not eat the living plant unless starved. There is no duty to stop ragwort spreading. Farmers are responsible for their own land.

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