Press release

Big society can help tackle Ragwort risk

Tackling Common Ragwort can be a practical example of the Big Society in action, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

With the Common Ragwort season in full bloom, Mr Paice is calling on landowners, local groups and nature-lovers to work together to help control the toxic weed.

The innocuous yellow flower makes an important contribution to wildlife and biodiversity, and eradication would have a detrimental effect on the environment, but it can have a devastating effect on horses and other animals such as cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Mr Paice said:

“This little flower may look like a pretty yellow daisy but it spreads easily and can poison horses and other animals - so tackling this problem can be a practical example of the Big Society working together to be part of the solution to control the spread.

“Landowners, conservation and community groups can all help by being on the lookout and to help remove this weed, where there’s a risk that livestock will eat it, by following the advice in the ragwort code of practice.

“If you’re worried about the risk to your livestock from ragwort on neighbouring land, get in touch with the owner to let them know. And if a local solution can’t be found, you can call Natural England if the problem looks like it’s getting out of hand.”
Ragwort is a risk to livestock when it grows in grazing areas, but it also remains poisonous to livestock if inadvertently cut and baled as part of hay for feed.

Where ragwort is not causing an issue for livestock and agriculture, it makes a valuable contribution to the countryside by supporting wildlife, such as providing an important habitat for insects like the Cinnabar moth.

Guidance on how to identify Common Ragwort and how to control it can be found in the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort, which is available at:

Anyone concerned about the spread of Common Ragwort should get in touch with the landowner or manager of the land on which the weed is growing and ask them to take action to control it. If the problem persists, a complaint can be made to Natural England which will investigate it where there is a risk to animal welfare and agricultural activities.

Key Facts:

  • Common Ragwort remains toxic when sprayed, cut, dug or pulled
  • Once cut, the flower can set seed
  • Seeds remain viable and can be easily dispersed
  • In its fresh state (unwilted) is difficult to burn
  • Is bulky to transport
  • Can only be composted in controlled conditions
  • Should only be transported in sealed bags/containers


Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is one of five injurious weeds specified in the Weeds Act 1959. If eaten, ragwort causes long-term cumulative liver damage in livestock and other animals, and can have potentially fatal consequences. Exact numbers of deaths are difficult to determine as the liver needs to be dissected.

The provisions of the Weeds Act 1959 only apply to Common Ragwort and do not apply to other ragwort species. Other species of ragwort may be equally toxic to horses or other livestock but are less common or relatively rare and some species such as Fen Ragwort are protected.

The Weeds Act 1959 empowers the Secretary of State to take action to prevent the spread of Common Ragwort and the other four injurious weeds covered by the Act (Creeping or Field Thistle, Spear Thistle, Curled Dock and Broad-Leaved Dock). Common Ragwort is the only one of the five specified weeds which is harmful to equines and other animals.

Natural England, on Defra’s behalf, investigates complaints about ragwort and the other injurious weeds where there is a threat to land used for keeping or grazing of horses and other animals, land used for the production of conserved forage and other agricultural activities. In all cases, Natural England would expect the complainant to have made contact with the owner/occupier of the land on which the weeds are growing to resolve the matter informally, before making a complaint to Natural England. Complaints can be made to the following Natural England offices:

  • Reading Office: 0300 060 4994/4995
  • Cambridge Office: 01233 533588
  • Worcester Office: 0300 060 1278/1631
  • Leeds Office: 0300 060 4180
Published 2 August 2010