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Friday, 8 July 2011

National Park Authority encourages New Forest horse owners to back ragwort campaign

The New Forest National Park Authority is encouraging horse owners to take part in a campaign to prevent the ragwort weed after a survey by The British Horse Society identified Hampshire as the English county most infested with the deadly plant.

Every year animals die painful and unnecessary deaths as a result of damage to their liver from consuming Ragwort.

Last year, spurred by concern over the increase in reports, the BHS launched a nationwide survey to draw up a true picture of the extent and location of the weed. The results showed Hampshire to be the most infested county in England.

The National Park Authority is encouraging horse lovers to complete this year’s BHS ‘snapshot survey’ during BHS Ragwort Awareness Week next week (11-17 July 2011). If anyone spots ragwort during this period they are asked to spend just a couple of minutes filling in a form available on the BHS website, www.bhs.org.uk. All respondents will be entered into a prize draw to win one of two Mark Todd Blouson Jackets provided by the Mark Todd Collection.

By carrying out the survey in the same week annually, the BHS is hoping to gain an insight into trends in ragwort proliferation and to strengthen the argument to control it. This can then be used to encourage better enforcement of ragwort control and lobby for changes in legislation.

Steve Avery, the New Forest National Park Authority’s Director of Park Services, said: ‘Due to the importance of livestock and equine ownership in the vicinity of the Forest we would encourage landowners to take appropriate action to control common ragwort in line with the national code of practice. Local organisations and agencies already play an important part in controlling common ragwort where it is a threat but may not be aware of all areas where it poses a threat. ‘We would encourage individuals and communities to help by supporting the BHS survey and reporting dangerous outbreaks to the relevant landowner.’

Vet and dressage trainer Fiona Macdonald is Vice Chairman of the New Forest Equine Forum. She said: ‘The Equine Forum is delighted to support any initiative to reduce the potential threat of ragwort. It causes such a nasty disease in horses and ponies and it is not always obvious, so anything that can be done to reduce the risk has to be welcomed and supported.’

More than 75 percent of cases of ragwort reported in the 2010 survey involved land that animals were grazing on or near. Across the UK a total of 13,189 horses were identified as grazing on ragwort-infested pasture, with the figure for cattle and sheep being estimated as approaching 20,000. In more than one third of reports, the plant was said to cover at least half of the land.

Lee Hackett, BHS Head of Welfare, said: ‘By now, everyone involved with horses should know the danger that ragwort poses. Every year animals die as a result of consuming this deadly plant yet the problem seems to be getting worse.

‘Our 2010 survey was a great success and produced some fascinating results that we can use in our lobbying to get some action taken. But we need more data and we are appealing to anyone who cares about equine welfare to become involved in 2011. The survey only takes a couple of minutes to fill out but the information we obtain might just be what we need to effect a substantial change.’

Recommended Reading: Learn to Ride with The British Horse Society


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