The ragwort flowering season is now almost over, and we have been removing as much as we can before the seeds set and spread across the farmland and woods. Although our sheep are hardly threatened by eating ragwort in bales of hay or straw, it is deadly when ingested as it causes liver failure, it is such a prolific weed that it will eventually colonise almost any non-cultivated area if left alone. Rather than have it do this and make everything look yellow, we are trying to eliminate it and leave more traditional native weeds in place and dominant.
I am a zealous ragwort puller myself. I find it satisfying physical work and have noticed that fewer plants grow each year in the areas I have worked on. But we have paid students also to pull it, and they seem to like the work too. We plan where they are to go in advance based on reported sightings, provide them with gloves and let them loose. I just hope they do not love the job so much that they leave a few plants to seed so they can look forward to more work next year.
From time to time I have mentioned my concern about ragwort to officials from Natural England. They are less concerned as they say it is valued as a habitat for a number of invertebrates, including the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth. But ragwort is listed in the Weeds Act 1959 for good reasons, and so I shall continue to attack it here. But, just when I though we were getting on top of the problem, I found some growing on the roof, so I may be busy for some time yet!
JH-B September 2011