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Ragwort: weed or wildflower?

One man’s invasive vegetation with nothing going for it, is another man’s splash of sunshine that attracts gorgeous insects.

 

At least 30 insect species (and 14 fungi species) are entirely reliant on Ragwort, and about a third of the insects are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also an important nectar source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to support populations in the UK countryside.

Although Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) can be a problem for some horses and their owners, it is an extremely important plant in the British countryside and on urban waste ground for the number of insect species it supports. At least 77 invertebrate species have been recorded eating Ragwort leaves, or living in the stems and flowers. About 52 of these are known to regularly feed on Ragwort and, more importantly, 30 species are entirely dependant on Ragwort, the Cinnabar moth for example, a beautiful macro moth. About a third of these 30 species are scarce or rare.

Ragwort is also an important nectar source for over one hundred species (117, says English Nature) of butterflies (Small copper is just one), bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to maintain insect populations generally in the UK countryside.

In 2003, Buglife and Wildlife and Countryside Link were consulted about the drafting of the new Code of Practice for implementing the Ragwort Control Act.

Ragwort (c) Buglife

Ragwort (c) Buglife

Wildlife and Countryside Link concluded in its position statement that 'in the absence of any evidence that Ragwort is increasing and reliable data on the frequency of horse deaths, Wildlife and Countryside Link will not endorse the Code'.

The Code was subsequently amended and now states that it 'does not propose the eradication of common ragwort but promotes a strategic approach to control the spread of common ragwort where it poses a threat to the health and welfare of grazing animals and the production of feed or forage.'

Despite this, Buglife and other wildlife charities remain concerned that the anti-Ragwort campaign will continue to damage the rich insect life that depends upon this native plant – or the wildflower habitats of which Ragwort is a part.

The Ragwort Control Act is implemented through a Code of Practice that provides guidance on how to prevent the spread of Ragwort.

Read our concise summary of the debate in Ragwort - weed or wildflower?