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Ragwort is valuable; & COMMENT DEBATE.

* SIR - Retired veterinary surgeon Elfi Evans is wrong to accuse me of not talking of facts on ragwort (Letters, June 17). I am not a vet, but I have spent more than a decade studying the ecology, biochemistry, toxicology and even the physics of seed dispersal of this plant, while consulting with experts internationally.

I have never denied that it is poisonous but it is the degree of danger from this most ecologically valuable of plants that is the question.

Ragwort has been the subject of a torrent of misinformation. It is accused of causing hundreds or thousands of horse deaths annually. We have had these figures subjected to independent scrutiny and when this is done we find that the accusers fall strangely silent.

It requires detailed testing to distinguish ragwort poisoning from other kinds of liver damage. Official laboratory figures show only 10 horse deaths from ragwort poisoning since 2005. This may be an underestimate but it is worth noting that the same figures show 139 cases of equine grass sickness which is a peculiar and deadly condition which occurs in horses eating grass but almost never in horses fed only hay. So it may be that more horses die from grass than from ragwort.

It is also wrong to recommend that landowners should follow the advice in the Assembly's publication Gwlad.

It gives incorrect advice that landowners have a legal obligation to control ragwort. You may be ordered to control it and a list of other weeds but there is no automatic legal obligation.

NEIL JONES Biodiversity Campaigner, Swansea Friends of the Earth
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 4, 2011
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