Blair's estate blamed for weed outbreak

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TONY BLAIR'S official country retreat has been named and shamed in a horse-lovers' magazine over an alleged outbreak of a killer weed. A farmer neighbouring the 1,000-acre Chequers estate in Buckinghamshire has reported it to a "ragwort hotline" run by Horse & Hound. The farmer told the weekly magazine that farmers in the area were "fighting a losing battle" as clouds of ragwort seeds drifted from Chequers on to their farms.

Pippa Cuckson, Horse & Hound deputy editor, said the farmer, who wished to remain anonymous, had told the journal the problem at Chequers was the worst he had ever seen. She said: "Ragwort is desperately poisonous and is a killer for horses. We would hope that responsible pillars of the community at places such as Chequers would set an example and get rid of the stuff."

Nichola Gregory, press officer for the British Horse Society, said she had been campaigning against ragwort for three years: "The ragwort problem doubles every year. When I heard about the problem at Chequers half of me thought this is typical - everybody is taking it seriously except the Government."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that in "last resort" cases, legal action had been taken against farmers who failed to keep ragwort under control. He was unable to say whether the Chequers estate, administered by the Chequers Trust, had been contacted over the problem.

The mansion was given to the nation by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1917 and first used by Lloyd George in 1921. Mr Blair, his wife, Cherie, and their three children make regular weekend trips there.