Ragwort is a very attractive plant. When it is left to grow unmolested it can be quite spectacular, reaching a height of several feet, topped by a dome of yellow flowers. It is a native British wild flower, and is important for a variety of insects, including the beautiful Cinnabar moth. Bees love it.
This is a picture that I took of some ragwort at a local nature reserve, Bannerdown Common near Bath. I am not sure what these creatures are, but they were evidently having a good time among the ragwort, it was the insect version of Love Island.
Unfortunately the plant has developed an unfairly bad reputation, to the extent that some people take it upon themselves to roam about the countryside casually uprooting it. I have seen several examples of this recently. This is in fact illegal behaviour, as well as being pointless, ignorant and wantonly destructive.
Near to where the above picture was taken, I found this:-
This was only one of several examples.
The excuse given is that ragwort is toxic to horses. I don’t have a horse, but if I did, I would certainly want to protect it from something that might poison it. That’s perfectly reasonable and what any responsible horse owner would want. The thing is, though, horses don’t like the taste of fresh ragwort so will normally avoid it where it is growing. It is only when ragwort is dried and mixed with other plants in hay that horses will actually eat it. So the answer is to be careful what you feed your horse. The rational way to do this is surely to make sure that any feed that you give your horse comes from a reputable supplier who takes care to exclude ragwort.
What makes absolutely no sense is to wander the countryside pulling up a native wild plant, or encourage others to do so. One of the worst examples that I have seen recently was at East Harptree woods nature reserve, where I took this picture of Cinnabar moth caterpillars feasting on ragwort.
Sadly nearly all the nearby plants had been uprooted, so there will not be many of them maturing this year. The most ludicrous aspect of this is that no horses graze there, and horse riding is expressly forbidden at East Harptree, so no horse was ever going to go near them. It is just utterly pointless vandalism.
So please don’t pull it up. You are not helping horses, and you are committing criminal damage if you do. Why not do something for nature instead and grow it in your garden? It’s a lovely plant and deserves protection.