- The yellow-flowered plant Senecio jacobaea, or common ragwort, is classified as a harmful weed under the Weeds Act 1959. It is harmful to horses (and other livestock) and needs to be controlled.
- In terms of controlling common ragwort, the primary responsibility for this lies with the occupier of the land on which the ragwort is growing. Under the 1959 Act the occupier means simply the person who is entitled to occupy the land. So, in the case of someone who has leased the land for grazing, that person is the occupier.
- Likewise, a livery yard which has leased some adjoining fields would be the ‘occupier’ for the purposes of the Act. The owner, however, would be someone else – but they are also covered by the 1959 Act.
- Under the 1959 Act the offending occupier can be fined. S/he can also have enforcement action taken against him/her, ie the land can be entered and the ragwort removed at the occupier’s cost. It is also possible for adjoining landowners to demand that action be taken where ragwort is not being properly controlled.
- In addition to potential criminal liability under the 1959 Act, there is also the potential for liability to arise under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Under the 2006 Act a person who is responsible for a horse could be liable under section 4 for allowing the animal to suffer unnecessarily, eg by taking no steps to effectively control the spread of ragwort. Liability could also arise under section 9 of that Act and it is key to understand that the 2006 Act covers both future and past suffering, ie just because the horse may not be showing any symptoms of poisoning is no defence under the 2006 Act.
- Accordingly, while your yard owner is primarily responsible for controlling the ragwort, the individual horse owners are also potentially liable for this not being done.
- The Defra website has advice on, among other things, the safe use of pesticides. The traditional method of control is, however, pulling it out (wearing gloves), bagging it and burning it off site or away from the affected fields.
- If you yourself end up taking steps to remove it, I would suggest you claim the cost back from the yard owner. Thereafter, good pasture management is recommended as a means to control common ragwort, and guidance on this can again be obtained from Defra.
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