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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 22nd September 2011

It seems that the British Horse Society uses a press cuttings agency. Or, perhaps, they have a vanity Google alert to bring up any mention of their name. I think it must be one or the other.

Last week, I blogged about my letter to the Berwickshire News in response to a very fact light story about Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort. The original story is here can be found and my letter is here. 

Today’s edition of the printed paper contains a letter from the Scottish Development Officer for the British Horse Society, one Helene Mauchlin. Ms Mauchlin’s contact number on the BHS website is for Crieff so my guess is she isn’t a regular reader of the Berwickshire News. Hence my assumption that she must have been alerted to my letter by my use of the words British Horse Society.

Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort

But whether from the expensive services of a cuttings agency or just from a daily Google search I’m glad that my seeding of my letter worked. I wanted to see what if any reaction there would be from the BHS.

Ms Mauchlin’s short letter, I must say, contains mostly facts but, unfortunately, not all of the facts. By giving only partial truths she succeeds in leaving a false impression.

She says ‘ eat it when it is green’ but fails to add ‘in exceptional circumstances’ or ‘if there is not sufficient other food’. By stopping halfway, she seeks to perpetuate the myth that horses are at risk from any presence of ragwort. I completely agree that horses should be kept in ragwort free pasture but there is no risk of a horse dying from ragwort if the amount in a pasture is small and there is plenty of other grazing. Trying to suggest that a horse is at risk if a single plant appears in its pasture is just a way of creating hysteria about the risk arising from ragwort outside the horse’s pasture.

Ms Mauchlin than says that ‘where ragwort is flowering within 50 metres of grazing land it must be controlled’. Again, true as far as it goes but she has missed out what the official guidance says which is that it must be controlled if it is determined that there is a high risk of its spreading onto the grazing land. Of the 50m figure as a determinant of high risk status the guidance specifically states ‘The distances given above are guidelines only and when assessing risk, account should also be taken of particular local circumstances and other relevant factors such as prevailing winds, shelter belts and natural barriers’.

Contrary to much of what is written about propagation, ragwort seeds have been found to have very little spread beyond 40m of a plant. And they are seeds not spores, the term some people use to try and give the impression that it will spread freely on the wind.

Ms Mauchlen concludes her letter by stating that ‘a field with ragwort in is not suitable for any grazing animal’. Here, again, she is at odds with the official guidance which says that decisions on what action to take when animals are present with ragwort should be made ‘taking into account the experience of stockmen on the likelihood that particular animals will ingest ragwort’.

My most frequent complaint is about people, like Richard Benyon MP, who claim to be concerned about animal welfare but have manifestly not read the official guidance. I think Ms Mauchlen has read the guidance but knows how to present just enough of it to maintain the official British Horse Society line.

Speaking of Mr Benyon, I saw this in the Guardian online about the Facebook photo I blogged about on 16th September.