Growing menace - landowners forced to step up war on ragwort as poisonous weed spreads

Pretty dangerous: Ragwort in Dublin’s Phoenix Park is removed by hand or spot-treated with an organic-based product. PHOTO: KYRAN o’BRIEN
Pretty dangerous: Ragwort in Dublin’s Phoenix Park is removed by hand or spot-treated with an organic-based product. PHOTO: KYRAN o’BRIEN
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The noxious weed ragwort is rearing its bright yellow head in greater numbers this year.

For many farmers it's an annual war to keep ragwort at bay and, according to Nenagh-based agricultural consultant Matt Ryan, there are increased amounts this year.

"It's very prevalent, especially on public property, this year. It might look pretty for the tourists, but we should be getting rid of it as it's highly poisonous to animals and should be controlled," he said.

"The consequences of it are animal deaths, or partial poisoning from it will affect their growth."

It's an offence for landowners not to prevent ragwort's growth and spread, and last year the Department of Agriculture is understood to have penalised 13 farmers for failing to control the weed.

An buachalán buidhe, or geosadán, is highly poisonous if eaten and is responsible for many animal deaths. While animals do not normally eat ragwort as it is unpalatable, if there is over-stocking and grass is scarce it is unavoidably consumed.

If ragwort is cut during silage or hay-making, animals may eat it inadvertently as it is more palatable when cut.

The poisonous substances in ragwort are toxic alkaloids, which cause the liver to accumulate copper, causing ill health and even death.

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Ragwort levels in Dublin's Phoenix Park are declining, according to the Office of Public Works, which manages the park. "Year on year, we are seeing a decrease in the amount of ragwort," a spokesperson said. The park removes individual weeds by hand or spot-treats them with an organic-based product.

Ragwort germinates mainly in autumn and, while it is a biennial plant, it can become a short-lived perennial if the flower stem is cut, as often happens in gardens.

Each plant produces 50,000-200,000 seeds over a few weeks, most of which are dispersed by wind to a range of five metres.

The only way to safeguard against ragwort poisoning is to eradicate the weed either by pulling, ploughing, cutting or chemical control, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Teagasc recommends that small amounts of ragwort can be pulled or dug up and safely removed, while larger amounts should be sprayed.

Pulling after heavy rainfall when the ground is soft gives best results, but this should be done before seed has set. Pulled plants should be removed and destroyed.

Teagasc also says the most reliable method of control is to plough infested grassland, but where farming is not practised it recommends cutting the plant before the flowers are open or spraying with herbicides in late autumn or early spring.

But it warns that livestock must be kept off treated fields and fodder-making delayed until all plants are dead and sufficiently rotted down.

Irish Independent

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