Monday, 17 August 2020

Ragwort Control Act - A falsehood enshrined in law.

 The Ragwort Control Act, is one of the most peculiar acts of parliament. It does almost nothing. All it does in essence it is explained in the first line of the Act.

The Minister may make a code of practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to prevent the spread of ragwort (senecio jacobaea L.).

Anyone who knows how government works in the UK will know this power already existed and didn't need an act of parliament (and also the line is based on a falsehood.)

We got this peculiar law because of a fudge. The ironically misnamed John Greenway MP brought in anti-green private members bill sponsored by the British Horse Society (BHS) and the aim was to force the control of ragwort. The government didn't want to do that but there was so much pressure generated by the campaign that they had to do it. It was therefore fudged and a law that did very little was passed.

The BHS had been campaigning against ragwort with well-proven falsehoods for several years. In fact they admitted it in their 2001 newsletter!

To begin with it was difficult to get the media interested. Their first question was always ' how many horses die of ragwort poisoning every year?' The answer of course was we don't know. We couldn't even come up with an owner whose horse had died of ragwort poisonings- The necessary 'case study' that is so vital for any media story.

They then in effect used made up statistics and did a series of statistically bent surveys to establish that ragwort was a problem. These led to a series of commercial ads repeating their claims to be the subject of action by the Advertising Standards Authority.

 Coming back to the Ragwort Control Act itself, we can then see that falsehood in the line of that Act was the phrase, "the spread of ragwort."

As part of their campaign the BHS et al had been promoting the nonsensical idea that ragwort was spreading for several years and MPs got the idea that it was increasing like a triffid. 

We know about the attitudes of MPs in Parliament because there was an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament. For those not familiar with what an EDM is, it is is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament that formally calls for debate, "on an early day". In practice, they are rarely debated in the House and their main purpose is to draw attention to particular subjects of interest.

This was absolutely atrocious. It was factually inaccurate about ragwort poisoning. It was bizarrely wrong about the laws that applied and even the English was bad. You can read my full analysis here Ragwort Early Day Motion.

Just to show the awful start, . It said:.

That this House is concerned that 500 horses died from liver damage due to ragwort poisoning in 2001 and that 1000 deaths are predicted in 2002;

This was complete and total nonsense! There is no evidence at all to support it. Surely someone should have checked that a native wildflower with all the ecological checks on it wouldn't double in a year, which is what this implies.

This is how the falsehood that there was a "spread of ragwort" got applied to the Act. 

And where do you think they got those daft figures from? 

Well we do know who was going around saying it and regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to see that the name of Professor Derek Knottenbelt is associated with this claim. This is the man who claimed that ragwort was responsible for the decline of the cinnabar moth when ragwort is the moth's main natural food!

Was ragwort spreading? Did we need a Code of Practice enshrined in law to stop that spread? Of course it wasn't spreading! Some years later in 2007 there was a government survey of plants and it showed that during the period all this nonsense was being talked, and a falsehood placed in an Act of Parliament, ragwort had significantly declined.

I am unaware of any other law in the UK that was so badly processed as it got a falsehood written directly into the text!

We really need better critical thinking from our law makers.


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Saturday, 20 June 2020

Ragwort Toolkit British horse Society's shameful behaviour.

The ragwort season's upon us again and with it we have a surge of the usual anti-social behaviour encouraging ecological damage by exaggeration or telling plain untruths about the plant to scare people or force people in other ways to control the plant. It is one of our most ecologically important plants.

We are seeing tweets pointing people to their notorious Ragwort Toolkit. True to form the British Horse Society are telling an untruth about the law. They have form for this. The Advertising Standards Authority took action over their joint leaflet with Warwickshire Council some years ago, but it hasn't stopped them.

Let's get it straight. The Weeds act 1959 allows for orders to be made to control certain weeds. There is no obligation on the government to make orders and unless you are subject to an order there is no requirement to do anything.
It is crystal clear. I cover it on my website.

But the British Horse Society tell this falsehood in their  Ragwort Toolkit.
"Under the Weeds Act 1959, landowners and occupiers are obliged to control ragwort in risk areas."
That is obviously not true!

They tried some years ago to get the law changed with this in a Private Member's Bill in parliament, which originally said:-

 A relevant occupier must take all reasonable steps to remove ragwort from relevant land occupied by him and to prevent the growth or regrowth of ragwort on such land.
Parliament decided against this and this has not become a legal requirement.
The BHS's  tactic seems to be to keep telling people the law says what they wanted it to say, regardless of the truth and they are doing this via their Ragwort Toolkit.

The BHS's and their officers have a long history of putting out dodgy information. One of their specialisms seems to be the rigged survey.  I cover the story they used for one of them where they falsely portrayed that a vet could just turn up to see a horse and just diagnose ragwort poisoning on my website


Then there has been the man who has been their Scottish Chairman, Professor Derek Knottenbelt.  He claimed that it was a problem in South Africa. It isn't!
It took a lot of work, reading papers, and books, but eventually the experts in South Africa were able to tell me that it had never been recorded there!

I've also covered his awful article in a magazine. I document seventeen problems. Including his crazy, mad claim that ragwort is responsible for the decline of the Cinnabar Moth. It is its main natural foodplant!

Now let's get it straight. Being a professor doesn't make him right. Only the evidence does that. Also he isn't a moth scientist. It is blindingly obvious or he would not say such daft things about them.

It is not unknown for people to criticise me just for going against a professor. Well I am really entitled to do this. Nonsense is nonsense never mind who says it. I tend to view such people, on the evidence, as not the brightest and that is being kind about it.


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Sunday, 2 February 2020

Alastair Stewart, abuse, his fall, and ragwort.

As I keep saying I don't blog too often now, but I have found myself involved in the maelstrom surrounding the ITN Newsreader Alastair Stewart and his resignation. There is an article about me  in the Daily Mail.
The story around is that Alastair Stewart was in effect sacked for a racist tweet where he compared a black person (Martin Shapland) to an ape. This was with a Shakespearean quote.
 
My take on this, my honest opinion, ( and I'll be giving lots of those honest opinions in this particular blog entry) is that it isn't actually the whole truth of the matter at all. I believe that ITN would have looked at his other tweets possibly including those aimed at me and concluded that Alastair Stewart was being unacceptably abusive towards others on Twitter and that he was bullying people.

I should say however, that to a man of obvious African descent like Martin Shapland being compared to an ape like that is a different matter than it would be to me. His experiences and therefore degree of upset will be radically different to mine. I have every sympathy with him.

There is a fake petition on change.org  to get Alastair Stewart reinstated.  I say this is fake, because from the evidence, in my honest opinion, the claims are false. It claims that Alastair Stewart never interacted directly with Martin Shapland, when a credible witness says he did and says it was all about racism which again that witnesses testimony and my experience shows is not likely at all.

The important thing to note is that I actually have copies of a lot of the tweets to or about me that came from Alastair Stewart and I know where they fitted in the conversations that are still available. He has deleted his account so therefore I think it is important that I publish what I have.

First of all, I should clarify that the Daily Mail has it right. I am well known to the staff at Friends of the Earth and I am white. I am Welsh and all my grandparents and great-grandparents were Welsh, I am even one of the 19% of Welsh people that according to the last census can speak the Welsh language.  I am as white as they come.

However,  I don't think it is about race. As I said, I think it is about abuse. I don't think that I am important enough for it to be about me. It is quite likely from what we know about his interaction with Martin Shapland that it  was enough for him to lose his job. I document it below in a twitter thread from another journalist who witnessed it.

However, it is possible that when ITN would have questioned Alastair Stewart that he would have offered up the fact that he had  used the same quote on another occasion against me. Even if he didn't the conversations with me have stuck out to other people. The Daily Mail found them relevant. I also think that any reasonable person would have realised that his behaviour in attacking me was unbecoming to someone of his supposed status. I think it is also quite likely that I am not an important example of this and ITN would have undoubtedly have found other examples of abuse.  In any case, since I have been named in the press as involved I should at least explain what I know.

I realise that I have a number of readers from outside the UK. So I should perhaps explain who Alastair Stewart is. The best way I have to explain is this. If the queen died, Independent Television News ( ITN) who employed him would undoubtedly televise the funeral and prior to his departure his voice would have been the one that I would have expected that we would have heard commenting and explaining what was happening. He is, or was, a very senior TV news presenting journalist.

I am a conservationist and I write and tweet about the issue of a poisonous plant called ragwort. Let's make it absolutely clear, it is poisonous. However, as anyone who studies ecology knows lots and lots of wild plants from oaks to bluebells are poisonous. Ragwort has been subject of a campaign that largely consists of made up falsehoods which make out that it is far far more dangerous than it is. It is also one of the most ecologically important plants and much damage is being done by the misinformation, which I debunk.

The excellent writer Isabella Tree came to the same conclusion in her marvellous, prize winning  book, Wilding when ragwort hysteria nearly sabotaged her wonderful rewilding scheme. I have reviewed her book on this blog.

I can prove my claims. I have the evidence. Much of it is on my website Ragwortfacts.com . Anyone can look at the registration details and they will see that it was first registered 18 years ago. I have worked very, very hard at this for years. I have read hundreds if not thousands of articles and scientific papers. One set of newsletters from an anti-ragwort organisation alone numbers about 150 editions all of which I have scoured for the misinformation they have been producing. I have been and am still scouring the scientific literature to improve my understanding of the issue.

Now let's get on to my interactions with Alastair  Stewart. It started back in 2013 with this tweet.

Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
#ragwort Professor Knottenbelt is right. There are more than enough other plants for insects to feed on. Ragwort,however, kills horses.
10:45 AM · Aug 19, 2013
It generated a number of responses including these exchanges with my colleague and good friend Esther Hegt who is a Dutch ragwort expert.
  Esther Hegt
@Ragwort_horses
·
@alstewitn
Knottenbelt is the primary source also for many myths, and scaremongering, an example http://ragwort.org.uk/facts-or-myths/7-i/13-ragwort-poisoning-through-skin-absorption-fact-or-fiction

Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
#ragwort Professor Knottenbelt is right. There are more than enough other plants for insects to feed on. Ragwort,however, kills horses.
10:45 AM · Aug 19, 2013·Twitter for iPhone
*******

Esther Hegt
@Ragwort_horses
·
Replying to
@alstewitn
@alstewitn
maybe read also the references we used to write my website http://ragwort.org.uk/references
********

Esther Hegt
@Ragwort_horses
·
Replying to
@alstewitn
@alstewitn
Professor Knottenbelt is wrong, At least 30 insect species are entirely reliant on Ragwort,http://buglife.org.uk/conservation/campaigns/Ragwort
********

Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
·
@Ragwort_horses
He is right that Ragwort kills horses. Insects can feast elsewhere or evolve. Dead horses can't.
*********
Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
·
@Ragwort_horses
Will read...
*********

Esther Hegt
@Ragwort_horses
·@alstewitn
you always can contact me with the mail form if you need more info.
*********
Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
·
@Ragwort_horses
Thank you.
*********
Now as you can see this is all polite and gentlemanly.
I then wrote an open letter to Alastair Stewart and this is the exchange.
Neil Jones
@ragwortfacts
·
@alstewitn
Ragwort An Open Letter to Alastair Stewart see http://bit.ly/1747Hcm I would appreciate an acknowledgement of reading please.

Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
Replying to
@ragwortfacts
@ragwortfacts
#ragwort I have read your blog. Thank you.
4:55 PM · Aug 21, 2013·Twitter Web Client

At this stage it was again all very polite. This is what I expected from a professional journalist of high standing. You can read the open letter here. http://ragwort-hysteria.blogspot.com/2013/08/ragwort-open-letter-to-alastair-stewart_21.html

From the letter you can see I don't have a good opinion of Professor Knottenbelt's claims. I actually went rather easy on the professor. I  knew that he had been making far wilder statements than the ones I used there, but I am a stickler for evidence and chose to use just what we know the professor had written himself rather than press quotes, which might be misrepresentations.

Since then I have obtained some far better material on the professor's claims, in the form of an article that he wrote in a magazine. The magazine put its old contents pages on its website and I just knew I had to have a copy. It would be full of complete and utter nonsense about ragwort!
My debunking is on my website. https://www.ragwortfacts.com/professor-derek-knottenbelt-country-illustrated.html
The professor is undoubtedly a very excellent veterinary surgeon, but if you notice most of the time the things he gets wrong are not veterinary knowledge. They are things about ecology, where he is a layman, and it really shows.

His claims about the cinnabar moth, especially in the book quote which I use on that page, are completely insane! They are utterly bonkers! The cinnabar moth uses the plant as a food. It is absolute lunacy to claim the plant is poisoning it! I have a page giving more technical details.
https://www.ragwortfacts.com/ragwort-cinnabar-moth.html
Unfortunately, as you will see from the page, the story has been repeated and even got into a veterinary magazine!

Incidentally, this is how hard I work at this. I needed this paper from Country Illustrated. I located a copy in a library. I went to get it. I set my alarm clock for 4 am and set off. I got back just before 10PM .  That is 18 hours later.

As I said, things were polite and I had hoped that Alastair Stewart would have had the ability to realise that things were not as black and white about ragwort as he had believed, but alas, this was not the case.

We now move on several years. This is 2018 where Stewart retweeted a tweet from Landrover. You will note this is his customary manner of commenting on a tweet. He retweets it with a comment on top rather than replying. It is of course a form of reply, the author still sees it, but it also means that all his followers see the original tweet. The original tweet includes a picture of a landrover, which I have left out for clarity.
 
Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
Alas, our world also includes the dreaded ragwort; but, once rooted up & bagged, there are few better vehicles for collecting it & taking it to the dump! #Discovery
Quote Tweet

Land Rover
@LandRover
·
Sleek design matched perfectly with the capability to make more of your world - #LandRover #Discovery. Book a test drive: http://bit.ly/2ltRlHg3:26 PM · Jun 26, 2018·Twitter for iPhone 

At this point I ought to explain a well-known phenomenon from psychology, which  is called The Dunning Kruger Effect. This term is derived from the work in 1999 of two Cornell University psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognise their own incompetence. Part of this is that not only do they fail to recognise their incompetence, they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.
No one is immune from this, which is one of the reasons I am so careful with my evidence, and their research broadly indicates is what is done by more expert people, in that they are cautious. I know  this subject is complicated. My opponents think it is simple.  I would contend, that this effect certainly applies to several of the people in the next set of tweets. They followed directly on from the one above from Alastair Stewart. The Dunning Kruger Effect is the prime piece of evidence that I am quoting when I talk about research and arrogance.

I'll comment between the tweets.

Replying to
Ragwort hysteria is a far bigger problem than the plant. See ragwortfacts.com & ragwort.org.uk |
*****
Bill is a debunker. This is a standard answer he has to anyone who posts what he regards as ragwort hysteria or silly things about ragwort. He also debunks poor information about Aneurin Bevan and the NHS, about which he has a really encyclopaedic knowledge and also other things like "Burglar chalk marks". This is the panic that chalk marks in the street are information left about houses by criminals. They are actually done by utility companies!

*****
liza rakovic
@lizarevell
·
Jun 26, 2018
Have you ever seen a pony die from liver disease due to Ragwort poisoning Mr Ellson?. It may be pretty, it may be critical to the Cinnibar Moth, but it kills, slowly. The only reason Sheep and Cattle do not have symptoms is due to them being slaughtered before they show.
******
Now this is a  classic example of the Dunning Kruger Effect. From my point of view, as someone who has studied the subject long and hard, she is very clearly not competent in the subject, but she is extremely confident that she is correct.
Sheep can be poisoned. It  has little to do with slaughter time, but poisoning them is rather difficult, they have a very high immunity. There is quite a bit in the scientific literature some of which I still have to write up for my website. It is a combination of bacteria degrading the toxins and differences in the enzymes that metabolise them.
*****
Bill Ellson
@BillEllson
·
Jun 26, 2018
Have you? A large proportion of equine liver casualties have no definite diagnosis. The demonisation of ragwort tends to lead to other causes of equine liver failure being overlooked and more horses suffering.
******
Bill is actually correct here. There is really good evidence and we even have the country's leading veterinary expert on ragwort  telling people we shouldn't be talking about ragwort when it comes to liver disease in horses and that it is pretty rare.
******
liza rakovic

@lizarevell
·
Jun 26, 2018
Yes I have and it was awful...and confirmed as Ragwort poisoning due to being fed in hay. And as you would know this is when it becomes palatable to horses. Having said that, a horse will "get a taste" for the green plant once eaten.
******
Hay is the problem, but this getting a taste thing has no basis in the science.
Dunning Kruger strikes again!
******

Bill Ellson
@BillEllson
·
Jun 26, 2018
Diagnosed by whom and upon what basis? Horses do not get a taste for ragwort, that is an urban myth.
*****
Bill is questioning the diagnosis for two reasons. One we know, as we have evidence, that vets  just say liver damage is ragwort when it is established by research that it is only possibly a low percentage. He also knows that there is no definitive test for it, even a biopsy or a post mortem cannot tell the poisoning apart from damage by fungal toxins or other substances. It is covered here, with evidence from world leading veterinary experts. https://www.ragwortfacts.com/ragwort-poisoning-no-test-can-confirm-ragwort-poisoning.html 
The evidence on the page is not the only evidence I have looked at to confirm the facts.
*****

John Burns
@TwoStoreyVolvo
·
Jun 26, 2018
What is it with people that they keep spouting what I see as verbal diarrhoea and abuse to you, Al in areas that both you and
@lizarevell
clearly have superior knowledge about? They should get their empty heads together, form a band and go by the name of the #TrollingStones
­čśü
******
Now this from John Burns irritated me. It is nonsense. It is obvious to me that Alastair Stewart, which is who he is referring and replying to, doesn't have superior knowledge..  We have established that Lisa Rakovic,(@lisarevell) doesn't have it either. It is Dunning Kruger again and especially with regards to critical thinking. Being a respected journalist doesn't make Stewart an expert on anything other than journalism. Thinking that he must be an expert on ragwort just because of him being famous is an example of one of the biggest errors in critical thinking called, "Argument from false authority." Even if the authority isn't entirely false arguing from authority is a risky enterprise. Look at Professor Knottenbelt, a fine vet, but with some insane claims. You don't look for authority to make a case in debate, but you use evidence. If you don't your argument is very weak.
*****

Neil Jones
@ragwortfacts
·
Jun 27, 2018
How do you know that someone has superior knowledge? Research says that you need that knowledge yourself to be able to judge. As someone who has spent years on it I am in a better place to judge. I'd also suggest learning the rules of critical thinking. You'll see many errors.
*****
Of course I am talking about the Dunning Kruger Effect here. Their research does indeed tell us that you need the superior knowledge to know if you or someone else has that knowledge.
 *****
liza rakovic

@lizarevell
·
Jun 27, 2018
Such arrogance is astounding!
***********
Am I being arrogant? It is a very robust debate. I am being called a troll, but I have a good response. I have evidence for everything I say.  I am really entitled to be certain , often from first principles of the rules of critical thinking, that my opponents are wrong! You do notice though that she can't answer the question I pose? I am questioning someone who, as I say above, is forming bad conclusions by using a well-known logical fallacy.


Here comes my response, which caused all the trouble. I think this is completely justified given the science. Remember I am talking about research. I would have expected someone of Alastair Stewart's experience to ask me what was the evidence.

Incidentally, there is also more stuff about people with a romantic and inexact grasp of what is true and accurate, regarding people who are more logic orientated as arrogant. There really isn't space to go into it or the time for me either. It is rather complex and this blog entry is going to be long anyway.
**********
Neil Jones
@ragwortfacts
Replying to
@lizarevell
@TwoStoreyVolvo
and 2 others
I am certain of what I say only because I have spent years studying it & checked my facts with data and other experts. Research says that such rational thinking and certainty is often mistaken for arrogance by people who haven't yet studied how to be rationally certain of facts

Now this is where Alastair Stewart retweets my tweet with the ape quote.



This goes out to all his followers. My honest opinion is that this is an abusive personal attack. He doesn't make any attempt to deal with the issue. Instead he just makes an ad hominem attack to belittle me in front of his many followers. It is just a misuse of his authority.

There was also another tweet like the ape one where he attacked me in the same way by retweeting me to his followers while name calling.

 Alastair Stewart
@alstewitn
The arrogance of it... and all in defence of a weed.
Quote Tweet
Neil Jones
@ragwortfacts
·
Replying to @lizarevell @BillEllson and @alstewitn
The civil servant who wrote that page does NOT understand the law or is deliberately misstating it. Similar claims in adverts have been stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority and a claim in a magazine has been forced to be retracted after action by Press Complaints Auth.
10:22 AM · Jun 27, 2018·Twitter Web Client

The simple  issue here is that I am criticising a civil servant for getting the law wrong. Ask yourself this, I have a large website on this issue, a blog, and I am consulted for my expertise on this issue by a several large conservation organisations. I have won cases with the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Press Complaints Commission over this issue. I have been thanked by the equivalent Welsh minister when I corrected a similar problem. I believe therefore that it is very reasonable for me to assume, because I have the evidence, that my beliefs on what constitutes the law to be accurate.

 Alastair Stewart implies strongly and, I honestly believe, rather haughtily and dismissively ,that I cannot be right and does this without question and without offering any counter evidence . So who is being arrogant here?

I don't propose digging out the Defra page, which has now changed to be more accurate about the law, but I do know that it confused the law on foreign invasives with the law on native plants considered weeds. It said, as I recall, for instance that you shouldn't plant ragwort. You are legally quite entitled to do so.

What I haven't given in here is all the side threads where Bill Ellson was attacked in the same way  with Alastair Stewart retweeting him calling him stupid and encouraging others who attacked him by retweeting. I have the tweets, but there isn't space or time to include them all.


One of the important things as far as I am concerned as a conservationist,and   which really perturbs me, is a later set of tweets. I do wonder if ITN could possibly have picked up  on this as well, but  I doubt it. It seems that Alastair Stewart may have been encouraging people to break the law protecting our wildlife here in the UK. I don't imagine it would have been intentional, but this is what happens when you don't listen and act dismissively.

 It is illegal in the UK to uproot any wildflower, including ragwort, without permission from the owner or occupier of the land. There are exceptions for certain officials. I cover this here:https://www.ragwortfacts.com/ragwort-uproot.html   ( Incidentally, I had guidance on writing that page from a very, very senior person in a leading conservation organisation. I don't just do things without checking them.)

Someone called Katika Vivuli tweeted that they pull up ragwort everywhere they go, which is, as I said, against the law in the UK. Alastair Stewart retweeted it in his customary manner with a comment and liked the original tweet. You'll also see a response from Bill Ellson in his customary manner. Alastair Stewart had also somehow got the law wrong on  control of the plant, which I am not surprised at.


I have screen grabs here.


And a second picture which shows Alastair Stewart liking the original tweet.


Bill Ellson did tweet that this was illegal. If you look carefully you can see this. It is mostly hidden but it is another of Bill's standard responses so I recognise it.  It is actually still on-line anyway. Katika Vivuli's tweets have since been taken private and are protected from public gaze. Ask yourself, should Alastair Stewart have been more careful?

At this point I want to refer to two twitter threads that I have found. This one is by journalist Kate Maltby You can read about her on her website here


KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 29
OK, so I'm probably going to regret sticking my oar in. But, Alastair Stewart:
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
I've admired Alastair Stewart for years, and really enjoyed getting to know him a bit on here.

BUT: I watched the actual exchange in REAL TIME, because I also follow and like his interlocutor. And it was much, much nastier than has been reported. It wasn't just the 'ape' quote.
11:09 PM · Jan 29, 2020·Twitter Web App
116
 Retweets
228
 Likes
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 29
Replying to
@KateMaltby
I was surprised. As I say, I like Alastair and watching this exchange didn't change that, in so much as it made me think this intemperate bullying was totally, TOTALLY out of character. Maybe he'd had a bad day. Maybe he was tired and emotional. There's no way to know.
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 29
Most of the tweets have now been deleted, so people now commentating think it's *just* 'the ape thing'. As I recall, AS went on a rant about Martin's education level, dismissed the possibility he could have a degree, really picked on him by quote-tweeting & encouraging a pile-on.
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 29
I still wouldn't have sacked AS. Partly because I'm a free speech fundamentalist, partly because we all make mistakes on social media. (I've made lots!)

But we don't know if there were other incidents that ITN took into account. There's lots we don't know.
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 29
I'm selfishly sad, because Alastair leaving Twitter means me losing a fun person I enjoyed engaging with here. And the lesson I'm taking from this is that we should all de-escalate and step away from the keyboard more. But please, call off the pile-on onto Martin Shapland.
KateMaltby
@KateMaltby
·
Jan 30
And on the ‘there’s lots we don’t know’ point, this is now doing the rounds. I do wonder still how on earth ITN let it come to this - in my experience there are constructive ways to guide & warn your staff on social to avoid precisely this type of mess.
https://twitter.com/angloyankdad/s

And this thread where I have limited things to people who seem to be professional journalists.

Mark Di Stefano
@MarkDiStef
The errr irony of Alastair Stewart "stepping down" for social media "errors of judgement" was he spent a lot of time on this website lashing (often young) broadcast journalists about impartiality with awful lecturing quote-tweets.

Comes for us all, I guess.
5:45 PM · Jan 29, 2020·TweetDeck
*****

nimesh thaker
@thaker_nimesh
·
Jan 29
Replying to
@MarkDiStef
Always came across as a bit of knob.. decades of perfecting it and then came twitter.. wham bam...
*****
Luke Jones
@lukejones03
·
Jan 29
Replying to
@MarkDiStef
When the R4 programme I used to do was cancelled he kindly told me how shite it/I was.
*****
Aasmah Mir
@AasmahMir
·
Jan 29
He was not a fan of me on Saturday Live and used to tweet about it. That was fun. Hey ho.
I  honestly believe that this is a matter of Alastair Stewart having got over confident about himself, as we say, having got to big for his boots. He took on someone else rather in the manner he took on me.  This behaviour escalated and  was unbecoming of someone in his position and led to his resignation.




Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Horse nutrition bible ragwort nonsense.

As it is the new year I have been doing something which I do every few months.
I scour the internet and various sources and archives for information relating to ragwort.

This is a useful activity to do, as quite frequently new things appear. Often  they are really old things which somehow have been put on-line or archived somewhere or other. This happened last year when I found out about the old article by Professor Derek Knottenbelt. I have just updated my article on it again. This time I number the problem issues in it in my debunking on my website. There are SEVENTEEN of them.

http://www.ragwortfacts.com/professor-derek-knottenbelt-country-illustrated.html

If we had only had this kind of information back in 2004 we could have really stopped a lot of the hysteria, because we would have been able to establish very clearly that the information being circulated was nonsense.

In the process of doing this searching process for this new year. I came across some text from a book. It is called The Horse Nutrition Bible : The Comprehensive Guide to the Feeding of Your Horse and it was published in 2003.

It contains the following text, which I will deal with piece by piece.:-
Of the many plants poisonous to horses, the one they are most likely to consume is ragwort.
Do we really know this? Is it provable? I don't know of anything in the scientific literature that substantiates it.

This and other toxicants, such as heavy metals and some mycotoxins, can cause liver damage.
This is true. Indeed, the damage done by the breakdown products of the compounds in ragwort, that actually produce the toxic effect, cannot be distinguished  from damage done by mycotoxins. They produce the same damage on a molecular level, by cross linking DNA molecules.

Then there is this well-known falsehood.

 In the case of ragwort poisoning, the poisonous principle,
pyrrolizidine alkaloids, accumulates in the
liver and halts its regeneration. 
Oh no it doesn't!  The alkaloids do not accumulate, indeed they are destroyed in the process of cause toxicity, as I say above!  The damage indeed can be cumulative, but there are repair mechanisms and small doses will not cause problems.  We know this from the biochemistry and is an important difference.
If it were to accumulate then every bit would count. With damage accumulating every bit isn't important, because the repair mechanisms prevent damage for small doses. This text in this "Bible" exaggerates the risk.

Incidentally, I blogged recently about people believing that civil servants and government departments were infallible. This error was also made by Scottish civil servants in an official publication some years ago.

And here we go again, another false claim.

Liver disease is becoming increasingly common,
mostly due to the rapid increase in the
amount of ragwort in and around horse
pastures in Britain.
As I point out in the debunking of the Knottenbelt article which I link to above. there was a survey of plants done by the government that covered this period. It showed that ragwort had decreased at this time.

This is yet another example of a horse textbook with poor information on ragwort.

Finally as it is the new year I will once again post the video of the current lead expert in the UK Professor Andy Durham. He has actually done research. Here are some quotes Ragwort poisoning is  "pretty rare really" "I do think we
need to stop talking about it so much." ,  "In reality there really is no evidence it's a common cause of liver disease  in horses."
It is an audio only video of the relevant part of a longer podcast with a small segment added to explain a point which he made at a  meeting that a colleague attended explained with reference to other experts' writing. It lasts just 1 minute 48 seconds in total. Listen to it!

Oh and just in case some ragwort basher tries to say I am taking things out of context, here is the original podcast which lasts 33 minutes.

https://victoriasouth.podbean.com/e/the-investigation-of-liver-disease-in-practice-with-victoria-south-in-discussion-with-andy-durham/

The video below is shorter but contains the relevant piece.









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Sunday, 22 December 2019

Psychology and a legal case involving ragwort.

I haven't blogged for a while. It is midwinter and there are fewer ragwort stories around. I could still blog more regularly as I regularly see nonsense but I have, as I have said before, got other ways of doing things now so I often don't bother. However, this is an interesting one and it gives me a chance to talk about some of the political psychology surrounding this issue.

I must thank my dear and most excellent friend and colleague Esther Hegt for the background to this. Esther, who I have mentioned before, is a Dutch horse enthusiast who originally belonged to a ragwort extermination group in the Netherlands. However, she is really very intelligent and researched the matter properly, discovering that the information being circulated was hysterical nonsense.

Digressing a little from my main themes of this post I should explain that so many people in the Netherlands have excellent English that our hysteria has spread there. In fact some of my best material came from a friend of Esther's who had kept old copies of British horsey magazines. To digress further this led on to yet more information  some rubbishy arguments by Professor Knottenbelt, who regular readers will know talks some real horse manure about ragwort.
 
 He is undoubtedly a fine veterinary surgeon but his comments about the ecology surrounding ragwort are just plain dreadful. He goes outside veterinary matters and he isn't an expert in those other things. Ragwort isn't, despite his quoted protestations, poisoning the cinnabar moth to death. It is the moth's main natural food!

The papers I obtained then were not the worst. The worst was the one I discovered fairly recently. I did eventually get around to putting an analysis on my website.  I have been mentioning it in previous blog entries so you might as well see this. Here is the full debunking.

http://www.ragwortfacts.com/professor-derek-knottenbelt-country-illustrated.html

Coming to the main matter in hand, it concerns a court case in the Netherlands and a Freedom of Information request which has led to some documents being released on-line. The court case concerns the Oostvaardersplassen (OVP) a rewilded area and there have been some quite peculiar legal claims made.

One of my constant themes in this blog is that the ragwort bashers actually don't understand the ecology at all and this is what leads to a lot of the hysteria. I will also come later to some of the science around the psychology that governs the political beliefs that motivate some of this.

This court case is a really good example of this. One of the documents contains this very revealing statement.
"In de rechtszaak van volgende week wordt Staatsbosbeheer beschuldigd dat zij JKK in de OVP geïntroduceerd heeft"
Which translates to :-
"In next week's lawsuit, Staatsbosbeheer is accused of introducing ragwort  to the OVP."
I should explain that Staatsbosbeheer literally translates to State Forest Management but that the organisation also looks after many wild nature areas that are not covered in trees. This includes the OVP.

The one fundamental point to remember is this one. Ragwort is NATIVE in The Netherlands. The OVP is reclaimed from the sea, but surely nobody with a proper grasp of ecology would be so deluded as to believe that a native plant would have to be introduced to bare ground in an area where it could naturally colonise? The OVP has been there since 1968 which means there has been plenty of time for plants to colonise!

Then someone is apparently ignorantly idiotic enough to include it in evidence for a court case!

It seems there is a lot of misinformation being circulated. Both Esther and I are still researching but it would appear that information is being circulated by several Dutch foundations. The Dutch language uses the word Stichting to designate these and it does seem that these are not as well regulated as British charities which are not supposed to make false claims.

From what we've been able to discover in our researches there is a Stichting involved called Stichting Welzijn Grote Grazers, which roughly means  The Foundation for the Welfare of Large Grazers.

Esther located a document where there was this absurdly wrong statement.

"Jacobs Kruiskruid is een ingevoerde plant en veroorzaakt niet tot de oernatuur van Nederland wat nagestreefd wordt en Zwarte Mosterd is vermoedelijk overgewaaid van de omliggende akkerbouwers die het vaak als groenbemesting gebruiken."
This is the English translation.
"Ragwort is an imported plant and does not engender the emulation of the original nature of the Netherlands  and Black Mustard is probably blown over from the surrounding arable farmers who often use it as green fertilizer."
This is, of course a bizarrely wrong statement to make but these things are all too regular with the ragwort bashing community.

This brings me on to my second theme. This is turning into a rather long blog posting, but it is a while since I have written anything and this is quite interesting stuff. The psychology of it all is rather fascinating.

Whilst it is often difficult to ascribe these things to single individuals in this case, there is an overarching theme on a lot of ragwort hysteria in that it is linked to right wing and often far right wing ideologies. Esther sent me some information on another ragwort bashing Stichting showing clear links with the controversial Forum for Democracy a hard right eurosceptic nationalist party in The Netherlands.

To me a lot of the ragwort bashers seem not to have a proper grasp of reality.
Part of this the science says, may be due to various poor thinking traits.

To begin, one of the most well-known of personality traits involved here is that of Openness to Experience.  Open minded people tend to not be involved in the kind of right wing thinking that is often the problem here. Open minded people aren't racists as they find people from different backgrounds interesting. I am fairly typical of that as I have mentioned before I am so interested in foreigners that if I go to a foreign country I actually take the trouble to learn some of the language before I go. The false claim that ragwort is foreign is a common theme with the bashers and I do wonder whether the closed minded dislike of the foreign is a factor.

One of the converse, closed minded, traits that is clear in a number of ragwort bashers is that they seem not to accept new or strange things and that challenging authority is unacceptable behaviour.  One I have seen is the absurd idea that civil servants carry authority and everything they say must be right and that no account should be made of the facts in considering this.

It should be pointed out that the research  is rather clear  that open minded people tend to be a bit smarter and indeed another concept associated with Openness  is that of intellect. One is tempted to think that part of the problem with ragwort bashers is lack of intellect and indeed that does seem to be an issue with some of them.

 For those interested in a technical examination of this idea. This is an excerpt from The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity and Personality Research published by Cambridge University Press. It is on Openness to Experience.

https://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Oleynick-et-al.-2017.pdf


I have encountered a ragwort basher who is always claiming that peer reviewed literature says certain things when either it doesn't or that the arguments made in a paper don't stand up to scrutiny. The person seems to have read different papers to the ones under discussion, despite it is clear that they are the same, and persists with the incorrect claims despite being continually taken on and debunked by various people. This blog , it is argued, cannot be right because it isn't regulated. This is such an authoritarian individual that one almost imagines it is being proposed that  some kind of permission needs to be granted to exercise  the right of free speech and that criticising the British government's department Defra for their ineptitude should be verboten.

This authoritarian behaviour is well studied. Right Wing Authoritarians are a large part of the studies reflected in the excellent book The Authoritarians  by Bob Altemeyer who is a retired professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, where he studied authoritarianism for forty years.

Professor Altemeyer has very kindly made his book available for free on the web. As he himself warns you shouldn't make the assumption that just because it is free it is valueless. There was probably a limited market for the book and after it had sold the professor still wanted people to read the volume that he had worked so hard on. One would imagine that a retired professor would not be in the poor house and would not be  desperate for money from the sales. I applaud his generosity.

Here is the link:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxxylK6fR81rckQxWi1hVFFRUDg/view?usp=sharing

I also recommend the rest of his website where he has some fascinating ideas on Donald Trump whose rise to power post dates his book.

https://www.theauthoritarians.org


Here to finish the blog posting is an excerpt from the book. This just rings so many bells. The thinking is just like the ragwort bashers. To me it is just too uncanny for this research not to be applicable.


RWA= "Right wing Authoritarian"

 Illogical Thinking 
Sitting in the jury room of the Port Angeles, Washington court house in 1989,
Mary Wegmann might have felt she had suddenly been transferred to a parallel
universe in some Twilight Zone story.  For certain fellow-jury members seemed to have attended a different trial than the one she had just witnessed. They could not remember some pieces of evidence, they invented evidence that did not exist, and they steadily made erroneous inferences from the material that everyone could agree on.
 

Encountering my research as she was later developing her Ph.D. dissertation project, she suspected the people who "got it wrong" had been mainly high RWAs. So she recruited a sample of adults from the Clallam County jury list, and a group of students from Peninsula College and gave them various memory and inference tests. For example, they listened to a tape of two lawyers debating a school segregation case on a McNeil/Lehrer News Hour program. Wegmann found High RWAs indeed had more trouble remembering details of the material they'd encountered, and they made more incorrect inferences on a reasoning test than others usually did. Overall, theauthoritarians had lots of trouble simply thinking straight.
Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large
samples of students at my university. In both studies high RWAs went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.
The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the
reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, "Because sharks are fish." In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don't "get it" that the reasoning matters--especially on a reasoning test.


This is not only "Illogical, Captain," as Mr. Spock would say, it's quite
dangerous, because it shows that if authoritarian followers like the conclusion, the logic involved is pretty irrelevant. The reasoning should justify the conclusion, but for a lot of high RWAs, the conclusion validates the reasoning. Such is the basis of many a prejudice, and many a Big Lie that comes to be accepted. Now one can easily overstate this finding. A lot of people have trouble with syllogistic reasoning, and high RWAs are only slightly more likely to make such mistakes than low RWAs are. But in general high RWAs seem to have more trouble than most people do realizing that a conclusion is false.


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Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Defra actually haven't a clue about ragwort

I often use this blog as an extension to Twitter. Twitter doesn't have the space so I write something here.

In essence today my posing is inspired by a question from Dr Georgina Judd as to whether the buffer zones suggested by Defra are considered good practice. These are areas near grazing animals where the plant should, according to them, be eliminated.

You would expect that Defra as the government department in charge in England would know what they are talking about on the subject of ragwort, but they don't. THEY REALLY DON'T!

It is pretty obvious really. Their estimation of risk is hopeless and useless. They take figures that have every appearance of being conjured out of thin air to scare people, and use them in the most crassly wrong way to claim that 500 horses a year are dying. They talk about "confirmed cases" when anyone who knows the science knows it is impossible to confirm poisoning 100%.
(Those links go to my website which provides references for everything I can find and as I am working on this blog entry another paper has come in from a colleague with a reference to yet another veterinary text confirming this.)

There has obviously been a political decision just to accept the horsey lobby's nonsense and apply it as if it were true.

The buffer zones bear no relationship to the distances known for seed dispersal and are based on the fallacy that animals eat the fresh plant, when they have evolved to avoid it and there are natural detoxification routes.

Yes animals do avoid these plants. You would hardly believe it from the propaganda. Just to give you an example. This is the text that I first read a few hours ago. It is talking about ALL the plants that contain these toxins. They comprise about 3% of all plant species (Funny you never hear a fuss about the others!) The title of the book is quite simply "Veterinary Medicine" and is written by FOUR veterinary professors.

The plants are not very palatable and are usually eaten in sufficient quantity to be associated with illness only when other feed is short, or when they are included accidentally in conserved fodder such as hay or when their seeds contaminate feed grains.

It is really simple. Animals that were naturally poisoned didn't pass on their genes the ones that avoided the plant or detoxified it.

Defra claim it is a cumulative poison and ignore the biochemistry. It can be but not at every dose as I'll explain below. All most all of their "science"  comes from a source in the horsey lobby , Professor Derek Knottenbelt, and as I'll explain below, my honest opinion is that nobody with any sense should listen to him.

I've already posted it on twitter, but just for completeness sake and anyone reading this blog entry in isolation, here is the crazy claim in a quote I posted.

This quote comes a book called The Horse and Pony Care Bible in Association with Horse and Hound published in 2007.
  Professor Knottenbelt is quoted as saying: -

`I would not normally advocate the eradication of any species, but this one has nothing to offer. I don't accept that eradicating ragwort would eradicate the Cinnabar Moth, which feeds on it. Ragwort is burgeoning and the Cinnabar is declining. In fact, I believe it is being poisoned. The moth was common throughout the years that ragwort was rare and now that ragwort is widespread, Cinnabar Moths are difficult to find. If we care about the moth, we have to find out why its population is declining in the face of an ad lib supply of "feed'.

 It is an INSANE idea!


It is not the only problem with his ideas, coming back to the idea that it is always a cumulative poison. I'll quote a piece from a page on  my website. He states the following
---------------------------
"Ingestion of the ragwort plant (in any state in any amount) will result in the absorption of the pyrrolizidine alkaloid (called jacobin[sic]) that passes to the liver in the portal blood vessels. On arrival the toxin damages the liver cells to an extent that is proportional to the concentration of the chemical.
 
It seems that again the professor is mistaken for it appears ,according to the scientific literature. that the statement "the pyrrolizidine alkaloid (called jacobin [sic])" is incorrect. Far from being a single pyrrolizidine alkaloid there are in fact fourteen of them which have been recorded as occurring in common ragwort of which Jacobine ( as it is correctly spelled) is only one. They are Senecivernine,Senecionine,Seneciphylline,Spartioidine,Integerrimine,Jacobine, Jacozine,Jacoline,Erucifoline,Jaconine,Adonifoline,Usaramine,Otosenine,Eruciflorine and Retrorsine. These are not necessarily present in every plant and vary in quantity. (Pelser et al.2005) and their level of toxicity may also vary depending how efficiently they are metabolised.

It is questionable whether the claim that ragwort in any amount will result in the absorption of the alkaloids is correct, and the following statement that the toxin damages the liver cells in proportion would seem to overstate the simplicity of the process. In fact there are a number of factors which might prevent the alkaloids from being absorbed where there are only small quantities, bacterial destruction inside the digestive tract and then simple failure to be absorbed etc..
Then they are actually not poisonous in themselves until they have undergone conversion into other chemicals which are the actual toxins. Fu et al ( 2004) Each of these steps is unlikely to be 100% efficient and the resultant pyrrole compounds are highly reactive and can react with numerous substances in the cell. They will only result in a toxic effect when they attach themselves to DNA molecules.


--------------------------


 I will be amending that page as one recent paper I have come across crystalises the science on detoxification. The alkaloids are non-toxic in themselves and only become toxic because of degradation BUT, and Defra appear to know absolutely nothing about this, there are 3 routes of degradation and only ONE causes problems. I knew about this but the paper makes it clearer and I can quote it for clarity.

I wrote an entry on this blog a while ago about an article I'd found by Professor Knottenbelt. I didn't cover everything and  it is so full of problems that it will take a while for me to write a page on it on my website. The falsehoods in it have the habit of popping up all over the place. It is known that he  gave a number of talks  and undoubtedly there will be other articles. His incorrect ideas have a habit spreading.


There are significant problems with what he says and here is a larger but still partial list of a dozen of them just from this one article.

He says it is a problem for insects. It is one of our best plants for insects.

He says it is spreading catastrophically. Government survey data says a significant decline.

He uses a figure for seed production that has been banned in an advert by the Advertising Standards Authority. It didn't fit reality and was banned as misleading. It is likely he was the ultimate source.

He quotes a laboratory figure for germination and says that it applies to all seeds. If that were the case we would all be buried by the plant in a few generations.

He gets the law wrong.

He makes misleading statements about groundsel as a foodplant for the cinnabar moth.

He blames ragwort  (again )for the decline of the cinnabar moth. BONKERS! It needs it as a food.

He says. "The poisonous alkaloids have been found in milk and honey, and although the amounts are so small as to be insignificant, the presence of any is unacceptable."
The poor logic in this is poor surely? If something is scientifically insignificant as a danger then there is no problem!

He quotes a notorious and crazily derived survey to claim 6500 horses a year die from ragwort poisoning. It takes a tiny and very inaccurate response rate and multiplies it as if everyone had responded!

He says estimates research will show one in five ordinary horses have poisoning. It was done. It showed nothing of the sort, almost nothing at all. A sample of 91 sick horses ( not ordinary ones) had 1 case in a mistreated animal.

He accuses it of wiping out biodiversity, when it is one of our most ecologically valuable plants.

He says things like this which make the plant sound terrible but are actually rather pointless, "Recoveries from terminal stage liver failure are not possible." Oh dear!  If its terminal of course the animal can't recover because that is what terminal means!

Clearly there are serious problems with what he says, yet it seems Defra accept him blindly.  A while ago a colleague made a Freedom of Information Request to them about the evidence behind one of the scary claims in their Code of Practice.  The reply said that they didn't have any evidence, "but Professor Knottenbelt thinks it does."

The other significant things  about the Code of Practice document are what Defra said about it a while ago. This is a page from the COP. They implied it is an "invasive non-native plant"



The significant thing here is that they say themselves that the information is out of date and that it has been withdrawn.

The Ragwort Control Act is very clear. Any Code of Practice created has to be put before parliament. They created some really bad new advice that implied strongly a lot of incorrect things including that the law said it was forbidden to plant ragwort. It isn't. Then they reinstated the old document in effect making a new Code of Practice. It hasn't been put before parliament so surely it isn't legal?

I could go on and on about how bad Defra's work is on this and how they mess things up. The problem is twofold, there doesn't seem to be any real expertise in the people drawing up advice in general and there is a political push to do something based on a campaign full of nonsensical claims.

In short their work does not conform to reality as shown by the peer reviewed research. It therefore cannot be trusted.







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Friday, 2 August 2019

Natural England spreads phobia of dock plants with Ragwort hysteria

Today's posting is about the effect that the proven hysteria on ragwort is having on other wild plants also there is a petition to the government that has been raised to repeal the Weeds Act.

The Weeds Act causes a lot of problems. It, is as we will see below a really old law. It gives the government the power to create orders to control certain weeds. Out of fear of orders nature reserves are damaged and eco-diverse road verges are cleared. Some people even misunderstand the law, or decide to misrepresent it. You can look on twitter, people say they are controlling weeds, usually ragwort, they are asked why and often say , falsely, that it is a legal requirement, which it isn't.  The British Horse Society who are behind a lot of the hysteria are STILL saying this so it is no wonder that people believe it!

 A bit of background, in 1920 , nearly a hundred years ago, the then government was  concerned to increase agricultural production which was then in its pre-industrialised state.  They created an amendment to the Corn production Act 1917 with   the Agriculture Act 1920 which produced a list of weeds that  they were to be given the power to order controlled. This was part of what is now a quaint and archaic attitude to agricultural husbandry, It of course long predates the modern concern with biodiversity, the loss of which is often caused by the modern agricultural methods which did not exist in 1920. Note the weeds were not made illegal to grow and the main aim seems to have been that wealthy patrician landowners who were very prevalent in parliament in those days were concerned that their tenants could be forced to maintain their property in they way that they wanted.

They created a list of "injurious weeds". Now I have a full explanation of what Injurious weeds means on my website. It is often translated as harmful, but that is not the real full meaning.  In this context , it means harmful to the interests of  Agriculture. I will quote a section of that website below.  This refers to a debate on the Act which took place on the 3rd November 1920.

There are many uses of the words "injurious" and "injuriously" during the debate. All of them have the "harmful/prejudicial to interests" meaning including this from James Gardiner then MP for Kinross and Western Perthshire.
"Every agricultural committee I know has intimate knowledge of agriculture and an intimate knowledge of the district in which control is to be exercised. They are, therefore, well able to ensure that nothing injurious to the cultivation or the country results from the orders they give. "
It is very clear that the meaning of the word as used in this legislation is not "toxic" or "poisonous" but harmful to the interests of land or agriculture.

You will also see a similar use of the word in regards to the interests of people being used in the
old Act to which I link to above.

Later on  the Weeds Act 1959 was created. It wasn't actually discussed at all in parliament it just transferred across the old legislation into a new form.

The list of weeds is listed in the law as

    spear thistle (cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten.),
    creeping or field thistle (cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.),
    curled dock (rumex crispus L.),
    broad-leaved dock (rumex obtusifolius L.), and
    ragwort (senecio jacobaea L.);

The modern scientific name for ragwort is Jacobaea vulgaris.

It is important to note that the plants other than ragwort are actually listed in books on free wild food.
They are actually edible. Of course docks contain oxalic acid, just like rhubarb, and in excess this can cause problems but they are less of a problem than many foods. For example, eating a whole nutmeg might be seriously dangerous. It is the dose that makes the poison.

There is an issue that had been raised about ragwort.  It was claimed that it was poisonous to handle. The evidence is very very poor, the toxins are very poorly absorbed through the skin, but it makes a nice scare story of course so it gets circulated. A colleague of mine asked Defra for their evidence. It came as no surprise when the said that they didn't have any. Then quite disturbingly they  said that Professor Knottenbelt thought it was dangerous to handle. I blogged about him a few months ago. This is the anti-ragwort campaigner who claimed it was causing serious problems in South Africa, where in fact it has never been recorded and that ragwort was responsible for the decline in the cinnabar moth, which is actually reliant on it for food! As I said I collect his stuff avidly, because in my honest opinion, he cannot open his mouth on the subject without putting both feet in it very firmly!

Dock leaves are a traditional cure for nettle stings. The two plants often occur together and if I get  nettle sting I have since childhood rubbed a dock leaf on the sting to relieve the pain.

Why then in the name of all reason does English Nature tell people to wear protective clothing when handling dock leaves (and all the other weeds on this list)? Surely even thistles aren't that dangerous! 
 Here is the text from the form on reporting Injurious Weeds 


WARNING: on no account should a member of the public attempt to enter railway land or verges alongside motorways to verify the presence of weeds or to remove them. You must also have the owner’s permission to enter other land. You are also advised to wear protective clothing and gloves whenever injurious weeds are handled.

It is an example of the well-known and well-documented hysteria on ragwort leading to even the government's nature conservation body in England promoting unwarranted fears about nature. This is just unacceptable! We never had this sort of form or advice before the hysterical campaign against ragwort started. It is also rather significant that they fail to mention that it is illegal to remove the plants without the permission of the landowner or occupier.

The problem is there is a history of officials deliberately exaggerating the risks because they want to help the campaign against ragwort.  There are many examples such as this one. Bill Ellson made a public Freedom of Information request to Surrey County Council because they had a real hatchet job on their website on ragwort that contained a whole list of well-known myths from the anti-ragwort campaign. He asked them for the evidence behind their claims. This is often a very good strategy because when you do it then you find that the information they are using you nearly always find it isn't really evidence at all but someone's assertion in a magazine like Horse and Hound or The Spectator and often there is another piece of juicy misinformation that is invaluable in showing what is going on. In this case the Council  had to admit that they didn't have that evidence. but significantly the website originally had the words,"Hopefully it is not too late to help in the campaign against this insidious killer." on it. It seems that it was very clear what the intention of  the Council was to promote the campaign against ragwort with scary and false information. The Council tried to say that they originally did have evidence, but as an expert I know it was exactly the kinds of articles which I mention above and that I debunk here regularly.

There is a general pattern you see here on official websites, because there is a law called the Weeds Act, there is a general panic about obeying it and even to misrepresent what it says. Defra at one time were strongly implying that the law said that you must not allow the plants to spread. The Welsh equivalent of Defra has had officers working in a part of Wales where lots of people still speak the language producing information and rather sneakily they have written the Welsh language version with stronger language. Farmers and other landowners who are the target are different to the general population. They in particular are less likely to be immigrants and more likely to have inherited their land over the generations and therefore still speak Welsh. ( I speak it fluently.)

A lot of this crazy habitat destroying activity would not exist if it were not for the Weeds Act.

Here is the petition. Please do help those of us working on this and sign it. You really can help conservation by doing just this little thing.

Repeal the archaic Weeds Act 1959 to benefit pollinators and wider biodiversity.



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