Farmers Encouraged To Consider Environmental Benefits Of Ragwort

Farmers have been encouraged to consider the environmental benefits of ragwort, with it recently found to be the thirteenth most common plant found in Ireland.

A new survey undertaken by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) found ragwort to be back in the top 20, having previously held ninth position in 2020.

“Agriculturally speaking, when it’s in hay and all of those kinds of things it’s a noxious weed, but it’s also a native species and it does have quite a lot of benefits for wildlife,” BSBI Ireland Officer Bridget Keehan told the Farming Independent.

“What we classify as a weed is something which is growing in the wrong place. In other places when it’s not growing on agricultural land it does have quite a lot of benefits for insects. I suppose there’s two sides to every story.

Ragwort usually flowers in summer and autumn, but can easily flower into the winter months if conditions allow.

“So maybe we should not get too worried about it when it’s growing in other areas, not agricultural fields.”

BSBI runs an annual ‘New Year Plant Hunt’, with volunteers across Britain and Ireland documenting what is flowering in their local patch.

In Ireland, 135 surveys were conducted. Around half the species in bloom were flowering later than expected while around a quarter flowering earlier than expected.

The milder south and coastal areas of Britain and Ireland had the highest numbers of species in flower.

Ragwort usually flowers in summer and autumn, but can easily flower into the winter months if conditions allow.

This year’s mild autumn and winter have likely contributed to its relatively high position in the list.

Ragwort is very toxic to livestock, especially to horses. It is generally avoided by livestock when growing, except where there is a shortage of food or it is present in very large quantities.

However in hay, haylage and silage it is undetectable, and will be consumed if present.

Ragwort grows best on lighter, free-draining soils, where fertility has been enhanced and heavy grazing pressure has left gaps in the sward.

The presence of large amounts of ragwort in grassland tends to indicate that the land has been managed intensively. Good grazing management will prevent the establishment and proliferation of ragwort in pastures.

Ragwort is a native species that is a natural component of native grasslands, and as such it has a number of biodiversity benefits.

Its flowers provide large amounts of nectar for pollinating species, such as butterflies, bees and hoverflies.

(Source – Irish Independent – Farming – Niall Hurson – 31/01/2024)

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