Sunday, 31 July 2011

Advertising Standards Story Spreads to the Netherlands

A while ago the big story of how the British Horse Society had one of their leaflets stopped and several companies repeating their dodgy had been the subject of action by the Advertising Standards Authority hit the news

Now it the story has hit the Dutch language press with a story in one of their newspapers. Ragwort hysteria has spread to the Netherlands with many people repeating the same false stories that have been the subject of action here.
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Friday, 29 July 2011

Countrylife gets it wrong

Today's entry in the everlasting list of errors about ragwort that occur on the internet comes from the website of Countrylife Magazine

It states.
Ragwort kills livestock and there is a law demanding that it is pulled up-surely a useful job for young offenders.

It is true that ragwort in hay occasionally kills livestock. It is much exaggerated though, but the site repeats the well known legal myth that was perpetuated for years by the British Horse Society and which led to the action against on of their leaflets by the Advertising Standards authority.
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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Daily Mail Repeats ragwort myth

Today's Daily Mail carries a scare story about hemlock. It is deadly and is "invading" our roadsides. Well not quite. Yes it is really poisonous. On of the most poisonous around but it isn't invading anywhere. It has always been there.
Perhaps being the Daily Mail they think it is an asylum seeker. :-)

Rather predictably, as often happens with Ragwort they have a photo of Hemlock Water Dropwort on the article another poisonous plant

However it goes on to repeat a myth about ragwort.

Ragwort, another deadly weed for humans and animals, has been on the rise in recent years.

There is no serious risk to people from Ragwort as you would have to eat it in some quantity to be poisoned .It is nowhere near in the same league as hemlock!
Also it is NOT increasing. This is a regular claim from the anti-ragwort brigade but there is no evidence to support it and good evidence to say it is decreasing.
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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The skin absorption myth

There is a myth around that ragwort poses a serious risk to human health.
Rumour abounds. This latest posting is stimulated by a statement made on Twitter.

Lovespoon Lovespoon Gelato
@fedupfarmer @hastillonlyme Re ragwort:a woman DIED last summer,having cleared her horse's field of it without wearing gloves.Hideous stuff.

The poster was challenged and could not provide the evidence. Various stories like this have been circulating the internet for years but there is never any evidence. A few years ago the government rejected a petition from the petitions website that made unfounded claims of several deaths. It is also significant that the poster made the error of thinking that ragwort is a notifiable weed. It was stories like that that led to the complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority recently.

What does the science tell us? There is a very good report on this on the internet written by Dutch ragwort expert Esther Hegt and Dr Pieter Pelser. Dr Pelser is a world authority on ragwort and actually has a Phd on the plant.

This is what they have to say on the matter:

2) Report on the internet by Dr. Knottenbelt (Liverpool University). This veterinarian is quoted on the internet quite a lot, because he stated, during a debate in the House of Commons, that the toxic substance in ragwort can almost certainly be absorbed through the skin (6). In response to this we contacted Dr. Knottenbelt. Through an email he informed us that there is no scientific proof for his statements. He writes that he himself has suffered liver damage after manually removing ragwort plants. The results of this ‘experiment’ have not been published and, according to us, are not obtained through a good scientific trial.

Through our research about the sources of the reports on the danger of touching ragwort, we conclude that there is no substantial evidence that there is a health risk for people. The amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that might be absorbed through the skin is very low and there is no proof that these alkaloids are being changed into a toxic form. Ragwort can cause an allergic skin reaction upon contact; compositae dermatitis (7). This allergy can appear after touching or eating the plant. This allergy is not caused by the pyrrolizidine alkaloids but by other substances that are common in many of the members of the Sunflower family (sesquiterpene lactones)(8).

So basically it is a non-story. There is no evidence that this ever happens.
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Friday, 22 July 2011

The Royal Horticultural Society gets it wrong.

The Royal Horticultural Society has also succumbed to the misinformation about ragwort.
This is a statement on its website.

The Weeds Act specifies five injurious weeds: common ragwort, spear thistle, creeping or field thistle, broad-leaved dock and curled dock. The Ragwort Control Act 2003 (which amends the Weeds Act 1959), imposes a duty of responsibility on landowners to effectively control Senecio jacobaea, preventing its spread onto grazing land.

This is wrong.

The Ragwort Control Act imposes no duties on anyone. It merely says
(1) 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.).

Of course the problem is there have been people going around campaigning against this ecologically valuable weed which has then led to trouble. Like the problems in the British Horse Society / Advertising Standards Authority affair.

Oh and in case anyone is wondering the Weeds Act doesn't impose any automatic duty on anyone to get rid of ragwort either!
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Thursday, 21 July 2011

letter replying in telegraph

A few days ago I blogged about a really silly letter in the Daily Telegraph. It contained perhaps only one correct sentence saying that there was a lot of ignorance about ragwort. It was given great prominence which was particularly bad considering how much poor information it contained.

Recent revelations about the corrupting influence of the press serve to highlight the power of the internet in getting the point across. The original letter gave thousands of people incorrect information about the laws of the land, which two minutes checking would have proved false.

Incorrect and unchecked press articles are part of the reason that I see that it is necessary to blog like this.

Now a letter has appeared in reply from several conservation organisations.

This is what was printed.

SIR - Ragwort (Letters, July 15) does not poison people who inhale its seeds, and it is not illegal to grow ragwort, although in exceptional circumstances someone could be ordered to control its spread.

It is a plant upon which at least 30 insect species, many rare, entirely rely. Ragwort is also an important nectar and pollen source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, beetles and flies, helping to maintain what remains of our wildlife.

Nicola Hutchinson
Matt Shardlow
Martin Warren
Butterfly Conservation
Neil Jones
Swansea Friends of the Earth
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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Nantwich Vet group gone from Twitter.

Yesterday I blogged about the Nantwich Vet Group getting their facts badly wrong about ragwort.I looked this morning to see if there were any responses. Their twitter account is gone. Presumably they removed it themselves.

If only more people were suitably embarrassed at getting things wrong then there would be no need for this blog or for people to do things like complain about the British Horse Society / Advertising standards affair
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Monday, 18 July 2011

Nantwich vet group wrong on ragwort

I have mentioned before that vets frequently get it wrong about Ragwort. This is a classic example from twitter today. Someone from the Nantwitch Vet Group has been tweeting poor information . Here are the tweets. It demonstrates how pervasive the misinformation about ragwort is.

TheEquineVets Nantwich Equine Vets
If you find Ragwort you MUST contact either the Landowner, Highways Agency or your Local Council.They are required by law to treat/remove it
Nantwich Equine Vets

Nantwich Equine Vets
TheEquineVets Nantwich Equine Vets
Some really great advice and information here about Ragwort - Please read this -

First of all they are wrong about the law. Landowners may be ordered to control certain plants including ragwort but they are not automatically required to do so.
This was the basis of several complaints to and consequent actions by the Advertising Standards Authority

The real problem is the website they are recommending. It is full of bad information. Firstly it,by implication, repeats the myth that ragwort seeds usually blow long distances. We know both from measurements and aerodynamics that they do not.
It repeats the legal myth. but worse it says this:

A horse can get ragwort poisoning without actually having any plants in their paddock! Seeds/spores from plants in neighboring fields can blow over and contaminate a paddock apparently free from plants. A horse can eat or inhale these - and cumulative poisoning can begin.

Let's start with simple biology. Flowering plants like ragwort have seeds but they do not have spores. It may be that they mean pollen grains but this hardly demonstrates proper knowledge of biology on the part of the webmaster. Improper knowledge on the part of a webmaster should warn against recommending a site.

I wrote about this before when this myth occurred somewhere else so I shall just basically repeat what I said then.

Firstly, whilst it is true that ragwort poisoning can be cumulative. The lethal dose is so high that it is often measured in percentages of body weight. The dose is minuscule!

Secondly, if you look at the biochemistry you can see the impossibility of this kind of poisoning. The toxins in ragwort are not actually poisonous in themselves. They have to undergo a conversion process. Some are destroyed in the digestive process. Some will be excreted unchanged. If they get through this then, and only then, they are converted into the breakdown products are they toxic and then those breakdown products are so reactive that they will react with almost anything in the cell. It is only those that reach the DNA in the cell nucleus that have a toxic effect and then if the damage is minor which it certainly would be, there are DNA repair mechanisms which would likely nullify any damage.

As ever good information on ragwort may be obtained from these sites.
Ragwort facts
Ragwort myths and facts
Ragwort the sense and the nonsense.
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Thursday, 14 July 2011

British Horse Society Farcical Ragwort Facebook page

The story of the British Horse Society's promotion of Ragwort Awareness Week is rapidly becoming really farcical. Earlier in the week I blogged how their page on facebook was full of nonsense and even confessions of criminal breaches of wildlife law induced by the hysteria over ragwort. Then there was that daft letter full of errors that someone who seemed well connected with them had written that was in the Daily Telegraph.

Well now there is more.

Their promotion page for Ragwort Awareness Week has someone posting a link to a website full of the daftest inaccuracies. It repeats the silly story about animals being poisoned by breathing in "spores" and seeds of ragwort and tells people that the law means you have to control it. ( Which of course it doesn't)

I blogged some time ago about this breathing seeds business which was again in that awful letter to the Telegraph. I called it tripe and it is.
It is hardly surprising that their supporters think that ragwort has to be controlled by law, because the BHS was telling them that this was the case for years!

They recently had a leaflet stopped. You can read here about the story of the British Horse Society / Advertising Standards Authority. In addition after the ASA acted to stop the leaflet several companies had to stop repeating the crazy exaggerated figures of horse deaths that the BHS had been using.

Let me define what I mean by the word ignorant before I use it. I am using it in its simple original sense. It comes from a form of the present participle of the Latin word Ignorare which means "to not know". So it simply means lacking of knowledge of something. This is no crime. We are all ignorant of far more things than which we know. but this is the problem with the BHS. They are nice people I am sure. Caring about animals is a good thing. I actually care about all the tiny invertebrate animals that are being harmed by the pointless eradication of ragwort and anything else that might resemble it from roadside verges etc..
But what they have constantly shown is that over the years people preparing their statistics, vetting their facebook fora and the members supporters supposedly surveying do not have much idea of the science or even what ragwort looks like. They are too ignorant to do this.
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ragwort Awareness Week : More false information on British Horse Society Facebook page

It is happening again. A few days ago I blogged about misinformation, hysteria and even admissions of criminal acts on a Facebook page which is run by the British Horse Society.

Today we have another person saying incorrect things this time on the main British Horse Society Facebook page.

All councils now seem to be neglecting the ragwort problem on grass verges which I understood to be illegal.

Roadside verges are not a significant problem. Ragwort seeds do not disperse long distances to any significant degree. We know from measurement studies that most of them fall at the base of the plant and that the rest fall within a few metres. We also know this from studies of the physics of the seed dispersal.

But of course the real problem is that this is repeating the myth that ragwort is illegal. This is nonsense. There is a previous posting about ragwort law here.

This is no surprise that people associated with the BHS misunderstand the law because this Registered Charity has been misinforming people about the law for years. One of their leaflets was stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority for doing just this.
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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ragwort Awareness Week : Bonkers letter in Daily Telegraph

This is another prime example of hysteria. Today's Daily Telegraph prints a letter from Zandra Powell in Thorpe Malsor, Northamptonshire that is full of inaccuracies and misinformation. In fact even trying to be dispassionate I feel the proper word to describe this letter is BONKERS!

It starts:

SIR – Ragwort, an illegal, poisonous, non-indigenous plant, is flowering in profusion along our highways and roundabouts.

This is incorrect. Ragwort is not illegal and it is most certainly an indigenous plant. It is one that is very valuable to biodiversity too.

The letter carries on:

Seeds blow everywhere and can be inhaled by humans and animals.

There has been quite a bit of research on the seeds of ragwort. The studies show that most of them fall at the base of the plant and that the remainder almost entirely fall within a few meters. So they certainly don't blow everywhere.

The really crazy thing though is the claim that people and animals can inhale the seeds. This is a really well-known urban myth. It is sheer nonsense. Try inhaling anything the size of ragwort seeds and see the coughing fit you will have!

A little googling shows that there is someone with the same highly unusual name living in the same village who is the Lord of the Manor of Rothwell and who has written or illustrated books with the British Horse Society.

This is the same British Horse Society that is currently running a Ragwort Awareness Week. I blogged yesterday about similar nonsense and even admissions of criminal activity on one of their forums and they recently had a leaflet stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority because of false claims about the law. It is the same British Horse Society that has itself been saying that it is illegal to allow ragwort to spread, which is false.

As ever you can find more sensible information on the Ragwort Facts website and a list of myths, including the ones in this letter, properly debunked on the Ragwort Myths page
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Monday, 11 July 2011

Ragwort Awareness Week British Horse Society forum hysteria and crime

The British Horse Society organises a Ragwort Awareness Week forum on Facebook that is full of nonsense, misinformation, hysteria and even admissions of criminal activity.

First of all the British Horse Society make a claim that ragwort is increasing. In in fact the official figures suggest that if anything the opposite is happening.

Then we get a series of misunderstandings and myths.

Sorry, I consider Weedkiller (Blaster) the only possible nemesis for Oxford Rag weed (sic)(why does Oxford Botanic garden not pick up the tab for it's release....countries are appologising (sic) for wars 200 years ago, why not this?

Oxford Ragwort is a different plant. A plant of waste ground and cracks that doesn't grow in pastures. Common Ragwort is a native plant.

What gets me is that this plant is a notifiable plant and carries a hefty fine if found on your land, yet the biggest culprets (sic) are the can they get away with it

There is no such thing as a "notifiable plant" and it having ragwort on your land is legal. There is no hefty fine if it is found on your land. You may be ordered, in extreme circumstances to control it, but just having it on your land is not a crime in any way.

It is significant that the British Horse Society recently had one of their leaflets stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority for saying incorrect things about the law, and in spite the coverage in the national press and subsequently being told publicly that it is wrong, they STILL have the incorrect information on one of their websites.

This is more or less the point of the group I believe - to encourage people to proactively pull ragwort, tell other horse owners who may be ignorant of it, and lobby their council to control it - as they are legally obliged to remove it from their land.
Councils are not legally obliged to control ragwort or to remove it from their land.

These comments are however much more serious as they show that people may be engaged in criminal breaches of wildlife law.
Pull it up whenever i see it!
As such I have a personal vendetta against ragwort and every yard I have ever worked on has been a ragwort-free zone - I kill it wherever I see it, even in people's gardens - every one I uproot is one less set of seeds to spread, I HATE it, and am very good at spotting it even in just "rosette" stage (before it gets flowers) I cannot walk past a ragwort plant and leave it standing - it has to die.
As I don't know where it is I'll attend in principle, I'm always ripping it up around the village, hate it.

The wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states.

if any person—.
(a)intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or.
(b)not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule,.
he shall be guilty of an offence.

If you are not the landowner or a similarly authorised person you cannot legally go around uprooting plants. There are many examples where people have pulled up the wrong plant too.

People tend to follow by example. Other people may be encouraged to follow suit and break the law if they see this stuff. It is acceptable for a Registered Charity to allow such material to be disseminated on a facebook forum that it is running?

There is more information here on this aspect of Ragwort Awareness Week
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Sunday, 10 July 2011

British Horse Society issuing false information about ragwort.

The British Horse Society are still spreading misinformation about ragwort even after one of their leaflets saying a similar thing was stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The British Horse Society's Scottish website contains a false claim about the law.

Ragwort is classified as an injurious weed under the Weeds Act 1959. This means it is an offence to allow ragwort to spread on any land.

This is not true! It is most clearly not an offence to allow ragwort to spread on any land. You may be ordered to control it but in he absence of an order no offence is committed. This is not the first time that the British Horse Society have issued questionable information. There were many complaints to the ASA about companies who were repeating the dodgy figures the BHS had been issuing on horse deaths. The companies had to remove those statistics from their websites as they could not substantiate the claims.

What is more the BHS were informed of this problem on their website rather publicly several days ago and haven't changed it

This matter is also commented on here in this webpage about Ragwort Awareness Week.
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