Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Daily Telegraph ragwort scare again

Every year we get some articles in the press prompted by the British Horse Society scaring people about ragwort with poor facts. They have a long history of putting out suspect information on ragwort. Back as far as 2002 they put out a press release saying incorrect things about the law, using figures apparently derived from a nonsensical statistical method to claim large numbers of horse deaths and exaggerating the number of seeds produced. They got hammered last year as the Advertising Standards Authority acted against one of their leaflets and a series of companies repeating their nonsense.

It is pretty safe to say, from the evidence, that if the British Horse Society says something about ragwort there is a high likelihood of it being inaccurate.

One of the latest attempts to scare people was an article in the Daily Telegraph
Apparently they think ragwort is some kind of weird triffid spreading across the landscape killing horses whereever it goes.

The BHS in typical scary unsubstantiated style say:-

The British Horse Society (BHS) believes the poisonous weed is proliferating and that councils are failing to tackle its spread on their land.
If ingested, ragwort causes irreversible damage to the liver, resulting in an extremely painful death for horses.
Unless it is removed, its seeds are scattered by the wind, leading to an even greater spread in future years, the BHS said.
Well we know that they have been claiming  that it is increasing this since for over ten years. The fact that a proper scientific study run  by the government shows  a significant decline seems to be irrelevant to them.
The plant's distribution hasn't changed since surveys have been done in the 1960s and we know from the research that the seeds do not spread very far at all.

Then the article quotes Professor Derek Knottenbelt. This professor is a well-known anti-ragwort campaigner who seems to make rather extreme and suspect claims. His statements are well known to those in the ragwort field. Things like, “Ragwort is a thug. lt is the most hideous stuff in the world,"and
 "It is toxic to humans, so what the hell are we doing with it in this country?". 

These make no sense to me. We'll have to stop growing tomatoes and potatoes then and get rid of all  the bluebells and oak trees if we can't have any poisonous plants in the country.

The professor says :-

“In the beginning we were killing an awful lot of horses with it, up until around the mid-Nineties,” he said.
“Then there was a spell until about 2010 when the number of ragwort poisoning cases was dropping and dropping. The plant was being removed from fields, pastures and roadsides.
“However, over the last two or three years I know that it’s started to come back.
It is always rather difficult to get to the bottom of the professor's claims on poisoning  figures.  In a letter in the Yorkshire Post he said that he gets around 10 cases a year but a freedom of information request to his university shows they had recorded no cases at all in the previous 5 years.
 Some of his other claims in that same letter are also questionable. He stated that ragwort was causing massive concerns in South Africa and elsewhere he is quoted as saying that it may have caused cancer there. People would of course be scared by things like that so I checked with the experts  and their equivalent of our Kew Gardens, their national repository of botanical data, say they have no record at all of the plant growing there!.

Again in the same letter he blames ragwort for causing poisoning in Uzbekistan.  Now there is some good documentation about  poisoning by the toxins in ragwort, that also occur in many other plants, and it would appear that the only documented cases  in Uzbekistan were actually caused by plants in a different botanical family.

Altogether we have an article in a national paper frightening people for very little need.
Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

No comments:

Post a Comment