The idea for this blog post originated on Twitter. The character limit there does not help communication.
There are as I have said before a problem with UK conservation organisations being taken in by the hysterical talk. You can't really blame them. There is so much bad stuff from people like Defra and the Welsh Assembly ( who were actually issuing blatant a falsehood in a press release recently.)
In this particular exchange it was the good folks at the at a particular conservation organisation , who I have decided not to name here. They were clearing up ragwort and announced it on twitter.
Now there can be very good reasons for doing this, but there is a spate in general of conservation organisations issuing problematic information. The totality of the available evidence is that Ragwort is a problem in hay ONLY!
In this case I saw this on their website.
Ragwort pulling on this meadow Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. The meadow is in the grounds of the demolished Clifton Hostital (Sic). Ragwort is one of five injurious weeds covered by the provisions of The Weeds Act 1959. Using 'Lazy Dogs' we are going to be pulling up the ragwort before it has a chance to set seed ans (sic) spread further.
First of all, why mention the Weeds Act? I have a problem with this because you can bet the average person being told this is going to assume the Weeds Act prohibits ragwort or means you have to control it. It does not.
(It is not unheard of for conservation organisations to get this wrong.)
Mentioning the Weeds Act does not help us conservationists get our point across that the evidence says that ragwort is not the problem it has been made out to be.
(There is a posting about ragwort law here which has extra resources linked.)
Then we have the statement "before it has a chance to seed and spread further".
I have made this point before. Ragwort seed spread is not significant. We know from the research that it is normally only a few yards. If a plant grows somewhere the significant ecological factor is that the site is suitable not that the seeds arrive there. If it were then we might have ragwort growing out of the middle of undamaged paving stones, to pick and illustrative but extreme example. If the site isn't suitable the plant won't grow there.
It is maybe a little unfair just to pick on them. They may have quite honestly been mistaken.
The real problem is the poorness of the response of the conservation movement to this issue. Remember if affects lots more plants than ragwort and it has much wider effects than just a few invertebrates, as I have shown previously.
A far worse example is Dorset Wildlife Trust with this very public statement with the BBC about a very well known important invertebrate site where ragwort is an important nectar source. Even after they have been taken to task
Poisonous ragwort has to be removed as grazing is also required to maintain the open downland conditions.
Now again there may be issues with graziers who have fallen for the hysteria, but this is not what they have said. It seems that they have encouraged people to believe that if you graze an animal where ragwort grows it will be poisoned.
The evidence, and the basic biology, says that this is not the case.
I am of course aware of the Defra guidelines but from a scientific perspective, based on the evidence , they don't make sense. If you are really concerned about the welfare of animals to this degree then you would never put them outdoors.
Why? Because the level of risk of ragwort poisoning is so minuscule according to the published statistics that it is similar to that for lightning strike!
(Actually I can't find proper lightning strike statistics but there are press reports that I have researched and they show a bigger problem. It is clear that lightning strike may therefore even exceed documented ragwort poisoning. Ragwort poisoning is rare. The good statistics and the information published around the world say that.)
Isn't it about time that someone told Defra not to listen to all the daft things that are being said and be rational. I would like to see some more conservation organisations studying the science and actually doing something about the hysteria.
The good guys in this of course are Buglife who have done some excellent work on ragwort
Finally just to address a point made on twitter that there is a debate to be had.
Well if there is any debate at all. It is between those that spend time looking at the scientific journals and form their opinions that way, and those that spread false stories, either for financial gain, or because they don't think critically about things.
As a perfect example of this is someone who is now one of the best experts on ragwort in Europe, Esther Hegt, a highly intelligent horse owner who was originally a member of a ragwort extermination group. She sought out the experts who told her the hysteria spreading from the UK was rubbish and then created one of the world's finest websites on the subject. Ragwort, Myths and Facts One of the experts who has a Phd on ragwort is a major co-author.
In later postings I will cover the false information and campaigning that led to the bad guidance from Defra and the devolved equivalents.