UK wildlife group Buglife is asking people to think hard before they pull ragwort from local fields and meadows.

Buglife, is an organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates including everything from bees to beetles says: “Ragwort has been implicated in the poisoning of horses and other grazing animals, though poisoning is actually much rarer than people realise and generally occurs when ragwort has been cut within a hay crop and fed to animals.”

The organisation claims ragwort in pasture is not a serious threat to grazing stock, horses and cattle which have lived alongside ragwort for millennia. It says this has major implications for pollinating insects which rely heavily on ragwort flowers in certain weeks of the summer.

Buglife’s Entomologist Steven Falk commented: “It really does defy belief when you see some of the unnecessary and ill-informed ragwort pulling that goes on in the countryside, and it can result in serious damage to key wildlife sites as well as reducing the capacity of the landscape to support healthy populations of pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies. I’d urge people to read the facts first before pulling ragwort, because pollinators are having a rough time and need our help.”

However, according to Teagasc, ragwort is a noxious weed, is highly poisonous if eaten and is toxic to cattle, horses, deer, goats, pigs and chickens. Under law, farmers are required to remove ragwort. Ragwort (also known as ragweed), is common in Ireland and thrives on a wide range of soils, but competes best on lighter free draining soils where fertility is reasonably high and grazing not intensive.

Teagasc says the poisonous material contained in ragwort is not destroyed by drying and hay containing ragwort is particularly dangerous.

It also notes that grass silage containing ragwort is also a serious source of poisoning, with cases of poisoning occurring in late winter and spring often a result of feeding, months previous, hay or silage cut from ragwort infested swards.

It highlights the only way to safeguard against losses from ragwort poisoning is to eradicate the weed either by pulling, ploughing, cutting or chemical control.