Thursday, 14 June 2012

RSPCA distributes poor information on ragwort

All over the press in Eastern England over the last few days  there has been a poor and misleading story about ragwort which is the result of publicity by the RSPCA. I will be distributing this post to the press so in case anyone wonders I am not just some guy with a blog saying things. I have been studying this plant and the hysteria around it for over a decade and I can back up everything I am saying with solid reference to the scientific literature and statistics.
Last year I got a load of ragwort adverts stopped by the Advertising Standards Authority who backed me rather than the adverts which basically derived from the kind of hysteria which is being put out in these articles. If you are from the press and want to know more Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Society
took press released this. Advertising Standards Authority crack down on misleading information about Ragwort - a British wildflower

The articles are all very similar so this gives us a good idea what the press release looks like.They create panic where none is needed.

For example let's take the one in the Louth Leader

This creates an entirely misleading impression.

Just a small intake of ragwort over a long period of time can be just as damaging as a large intake on a single occasion
What we know from the biochemistry here is that this is not necessarily  true at all. The stuff in the plants actually isn't toxic, it has to be converted into a toxic product via processes in the gut and the liver. There are a whole series of mechanisms which reduce the amount of actual toxins formed. Then there are also repair mechanisms which sort the problem. I blogged about it some time ago. At some point I really need to write this up in technical detail for my main website but for now look at this previous blog entry for a bit more detail

Branch chairman Sally Phillips said: “It is heartbreaking when we see fields covered with this potentially lethal plant and it is growing next to where horses or livestock are happily grazing.
This creates a real impression of urgent danger. Horses, like all other animals have evolved to avoid poisons.
Ragwort poisoning is rare. The only real problem is if it is in hay, when it loses its taste or if animals are starved into eating absolutely anything out of desperation.

There are claims that hundreds or thousands or horses die every year and these are really at the route of the problem here. The RSPCA should as a proper charity check their facts. I have, using Freedom of Information requests and other techniques I get the actual statistics. These have no basis in establishable facts.

I blogged about this in this blog entry recently.They made it up you know!

This is what appears in another newspaper

Ragwort plants can produce up to 150,000 seeds which can remain dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.
Th is is real exaggeration after 20 years there are unlikely to be many seeds that survive. and the seeds figure is like saying men can grow up to 8 foot tall.  It is possible but rare.
These are some real figures from the research for normal plants at 8 different sites

Horse and livestock owners that find ragwort on their land are urged to move the animal to another area immediately.

This is real hysteria. As I said this isn't how poisoning occurs. The animals know instinctively to avoid it.
 To put this in context, both problems are rare, but it would appear from the available statistics that Equine Grass Sickness, which has complicated origins but which associated with grazing on grass rather than using hay, causes more horse deaths. Therefore it seems that the grass in those fields poses a greater risk

Let's not forget that ragwort is an important plant for much wildlife and that there are animals that rely on it entirely for survival. The RSPCA should be thinking about them too and if the newspaper articles correctly reflect what they say should take more care to check its facts.

It is also important to realise that despite being a common plant ( althought the evidence does actually show a decline in its abundance) there are a whole range of wild animals that rely on ragwort as a food and nectar source and we know from key elements of modern ecological science that loosing any habitat patch from within a group of habitat patches or loosing connectivity between habitat patches can have a wide ranging effect on a species beyond just the local damage. Indeed, one of  the standard textbooks on this branch of modern science actually has an entire chapter on the interactions of ragwort. As ever there are pages of good information at
Ragwort Facts
Ragwort Myths and Facts
The second site is written by top class  European ragwort expert Esther Hegt who has gathered a stellar cast of international experts to help her explain the science.

Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

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