How to prevent the spread of ragwort: guidance

The guide offers advice to prevent and control the spread of ragwort where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals.


The aim of this guidance is to prevent and control the spread of ragwort where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals. Particular emphasis has been placed on protecting horses whose digestive system makes them particularly vulnerable. The guidance provides comprehensive information on when, where and how to control ragwort, but pays specific attention to the needs of the environment and the countryside as part of the process. The guidance should benefit the environment by ensuring there is less damage to non-target species, by setting out clear parameters on when it is necessary to control ragwort and by recommending the use of non-chemical options for control where feasible.

Ragwort poisoning can be fatal in horses, as well as being damaging to other livestock. Ingestion of common ragwort senecio jacobaea either in its green or dried state, can cause serious liver damage, which can have tragic consequences for both animals and owners. Signs that a horse has been poisoned by ragwort are distressing and include haemorrhage, weight loss, loss of co-ordination, depression, seizures and coma. A horse suffering from ragwort poisoning will be very sick and may be blind and disoriented. Common ragwort is the only one of the five weeds covered by the Weeds Act 1959, which is harmful to equines and other animals. However, in the right environment, and where there is no risk to animal welfare, ragwort contributes to the biodiversity of the flora and fauna in our countryside. A detailed study of vegetation change published in 2006 shows that the distribution of ragwort has not significantly changed over the last 20 years.

Section 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (the Act) gives the Scottish Ministers the power to issue such guidance as they consider appropriate, with a view to securing the welfare of protected animals. An animal is a protected animal if it is of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands, under the control of man on a permanent or temporary basis, or not living in a wild state. This guidance has been prepared to promote good practice and good neighbourliness, and aims to reduce significantly the risk of horses and livestock being poisoned. It is intended for use by all owners of horses and livestock; landowners and occupiers. It will be particularly relevant for large scale organisations managing significant land areas, including local authorities and public bodies.

The guidance provides comprehensive information on how to develop a strategic and cost-effective approach to weed control. It gives advice on:

  • identification of common ragwort
  • risk assessment and priorities for ragwort control
  • control methods - their suitability and efficacy
  • environmental considerations
  • health and safety issues

The Scottish Government would urge all landowners and land managers to work with horse and livestock owners to adopt the recommendations of this guidance.

Back to top