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.

Appendix 1: grassland management


1 Pasture management plays a crucial role in preventing the establishment and spread of ragwort. It is not possible in guidance of this nature to provide comprehensive information on pasture management. Best practice varies according to specific circumstances, e.g. in relation to managed grassland or unimproved semi-natural grassland.

2 Horses are very selective grazers and will eat down some areas until they are almost bare. Coarser grasses can dominate, particularly in those areas where horses dung or urinate, and the grass is left to seed creating a very uneven sward. Bare patches can develop resulting in ideal conditions for the establishment of ragwort. Horse pastures in particular must be very carefully managed to prevent this. Leaving horses out in wet winter conditions can exacerbate the situation causing the ground to become poached (i.e. churning up of land by animals), damaging the grass sward and providing an opportunity for ragwort to establish in the bare ground.

3 To maintain horse pasture in good condition:

  • stocking densities should be appropriate to the size of grazing area and available herbage
  • dung should be collected and removed or spread regularly
  • plants poisonous to livestock should not be allowed to proliferate
  • prevent poaching by keeping horses off fields in wet conditions, wherever practicable and maintain drainage
  • remove any stale, dry fodder such as hay

4 Agriculturally improved grassland should be managed to achieve a dense ground cover of grasses.

  • nutrient and pH levels should be maintained through the appropriate application of fertilisers and lime (application rates should be determined by a soil analysis)
  • appropriate stocking levels should be maintained to avoid under and overgrazing
  • where pastures deteriorate to such an extent that other methods do little to improve the sward cover, renovation through reseeding may be necessary
  • poaching should be minimised to prevent sward damage

5 Where grassland is being managed for its ecological value, but is also being used for grazing, different constraints will apply. Here it will be necessary to keep the population of weeds designated under the Weeds Act to a minimum level consistent with the ecological requirements of the site, the species of conservation significance living there, and the welfare of the grazing animals.

Semi-natural and uncultivated areas

6 Wherever possible uncultivated land with low levels of ragwort should remain undisturbed. Where an open sward is maintained and ragwort can be expected to be a natural component of grassland, other control methods might be necessary to prevent ragwort becoming a problem.

7 Anyone intending to use uncultivated or semi-natural land for intensive farming purposes must first obtain a screening decision on the proposal from the Scottish Ministers under provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (Scotland) Regulations 2006. Similarly, you must obtain a screening decision for projects involving the restructuring of rural land holdings on agricultural land to be carried out in a sensitive area (as defined by the Regulations), or which exceeds the threshold applicable to the project determined by the regulations. The screening decision determines whether the project is likely to be one that has significant effect on the environment and, if so, the requirement for the applicant to include an environmental statement in the application to the Scottish Ministers for consent for the project. Information, guidance and other documents can be found at The Scottish Government website. Further information and technical advice can be obtained from the local Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate Area or Sub-Area Offices ( see appendix 7).

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