Country & Garden: Nature Notes

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THE COUNTRY Landowners' Association has just launched its first nationwide campaign against the poisonous weed ragwort. Last summer a pioneer attack in the Midlands achieved limited success, but failed to halt the spread of the yellow menace; and this year, under the banner "Let's Rout Ragwort", proprietors of every description - private individuals, local councils, highway authorities and railway operators - are being urged to go on the offensive.

Senecio jacobaea is exceedingly prolific and hard to exterminate. A single plant may produce 150,000 seeds, 70 per cent of which may germinate successfully, having been distributed by the wind. Favourite sites for colonisation include railway embankments and roadside verges.

Luckily ragwort is neither very poisonous nor highly palatable so long as it is growing. But when cut and wilted in hay crops or on topped pastures it becomes highly toxic to cattle, sheep and horses, and can cause irreversible liver damage, leading to paralysis and death.

Cutting the plants is a waste of time, as it only produces more vigorous. growth. Ragwort can be killed with 2-4D spray, but the risk is that many other, desirable plants will also die. The safest way to get rid of it is to dig it up, roots and all, and burn it.

Duff Hart-Davis