NEW MOVES TO PREVENT RAGWORT POISONING
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael today urged landowners and occupiers to control ragwort spread, and prevent poisoning of countless horses and other livestock each year.
Mr Michael, who is also Minister for the Horse, joined British Horse Society Chairman, Mrs Pat Campbell, at Hickstead Royal International Horse Show to launch a draft code of practice on controlling the spread of the poisonous weed on to agricultural or grazing land.
New enforcement procedures by Defra under the Weeds Act will also mean that, in future, complaints about the threat the weed poses to horses will be given priority along with other livestock.
Alun Michael commented:
"The draft code provides clear guidance for all landowners and occupiers, including local authorities and statutory organisations, such as rail and waterways authorities on best practice in controlling ragwort. By developing a strategic approach to control, organisations should be able to get better value for money from their efforts and minimise spread from their land to farm and other land.
"I am grateful to The British Horse Society for their work in drafting the Ragwort Control Bill and to Network Rail, local authorities and others on the working group who have drawn up this draft code. It is being published today to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to comment on its content and clarity.
"I am also grateful to John Greenway MP, who introduced the Ragwort Control Bill as a Private Member's Bill, for his cooperation with me and the BHS to achieve an effective piece of legislation".
Pat Campbell commented:
"This code has been a long time coming, and we are pleased that it has come to fruition at last. Let us hope that it will be instrumental in controlling ragwort to the extent that horse owners no longer have to fear this pernicious weed. The BHS is grateful to Alun Michael for the help he has given in ensuring the code of practice has now become a reality".
The draft Code has been drawn up in preparation for the Ragwort Control Bill, currently before Parliament. The Bill would enable the Code to be used as evidence in enforcement proceedings under the Weeds Act. Under that Act the Secretary of State may serve a notice on an occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring action to prevent the spread of weeds. It is an offence for the occupier unreasonably to fail to comply.
Most responsible landowners are expected to stop the spread of ragwort voluntarily, without the need for enforcement action. Where such action becomes necessary the Code provides clear guidance on what is considered to be "reasonable" action to comply with an enforcement notice. Everyone concerned will benefit from this improved clarity and wherever possible Defra hopes enforcement proceedings can be avoided.
The code sets out:
Why it is necessary to control the spread of ragwort
How to assess the risk it poses to horses and other livestock
The control methods available
Health and safety requirements
How to dispose of ragwort
The Code promotes a proportionate response to the risks identified and acknowledges that it is nether possible or desirable to eradicate ragwort completely.
Notes for editors
The Weeds Act 1959
1. The Weeds Act 1959 empowers the Secretary of State to take action to prevent the spread of Common Ragwort and the other four injurious weeds covered by the Act (Creeping or Field Thistle, Spear Thistle, Curled Dock and Broad- Leaved Dock). The Act does not make it an offence to permit injurious weeds to grow on land. Under the Act, the Secretary of State has a permissive power to serve a notice on an occupier of any land on which one of the five injurious weeds is growing requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the weeds from spreading. The Act permits officials to enter land to inspect whether an enforcement notice has been complied with. If an occupier has unreasonably failed to comply with the notice he or she shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction liable to a fine. Where the occupier fails to take clearance action, the Secretary of State may take action to arrange for the weeds to be removed and to recover the cost of doing so, if necessary through the Courts.
The Ragwort Control Bill
2. The Ragwort Control Bill, presented by John Greenway MP, had its Third Reading in the House of Commons on Friday 11 July. It should have its second reading in the House of Lords after the summer recess. The Bill:
Enables the Secretary of State to make a Code of Practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to prevent the spread of Common Ragwort
Requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as considered appropriate before making the Code
Requires the Secretary of State to lay the Code before Parliament
Allows the Secretary of State to make revisions to the Code
Provides that the Code may be admissible in evidence
Provides that the Code may be taken into account in questions arising in proceedings in Court, if the Code appears relevant to the Court.
Regulatory Impact Assessment
3. A Regulatory Impact Assessment of the Ragwort Control Bill has been prepared and is being circulated for public comment. Copies of the RIA and covering letter can be found on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/environ/weedsact/default.htm All comments on it should be forwarded to Defra at the address indicated before 26 September.
Draft Code of Practice on the Control of the Spread of Ragwort
4. Defra has commissioned the Agricultural Development Advisory Service to prepare a Code of Practice on the Control of the Spread of Ragwort. They have drawn up the draft Code published today, with the help of a small steering group, including the British Horse Society, Network Rail and representatives from local authorities, English Nature and Defra. The Ragwort Control Bill provides for the Code to come into force three months after Royal Assent. Formal consultation on the Code of Practice will be carried out once the Bill receives Royal Assent. Comments received in advance of this formal consultation will also be taken into account in the preparation of the final Code. The intention is to lay the Code before Parliament in time for it to be in place before the start of the 2004 Ragwort season.
5. Ragwort is one of five injurious weeds specified in the Weeds Act 1959. If eaten, ragwort causes long term cumulative liver damage in livestock and other animals, and can have potentially fatal consequences. At least 90% of complaints received by Defra under the Weeds Act concern ragwort. The effects of ragwort poisoning are most usually observed in horses and ponies, since most agricultural livestock (with the possible exception of dairy cattle) are normally slaughtered before the cumulative effects become noticeable. Previous estimates of the number of horses that die annually from ragwort poisoning put the figure at 500, but new research by The British Horse Society in cooperation with the British Equestrian Veterinary Association suggests the figure may be much higher, possibly up to 6,500 deaths. This represents an estimated cost to owners of severalmillion. The threat to horses and ponies comes not just from eating ragwort growing in fields and paddocks, but also from eating dried forage contaminated with ragwort. In its dried state, ragwort is more palatable to animals and can be difficult to detect when mixed with other forage. Primary responsibility for all animal welfare rests with the owner of the animal. In the first instance, it is for individual horse and pony owners to ensure that ragwort is controlled on grazing land, and that forage is purchased from reputable dealers and warranted to be Ragwort free. Copies of the draft code are available from Modupe Adedoyin at Defra, Area 2C, Ergon House, Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AL (Tel: 0207 238 5677) or on the Defra Website at: www.defra.gov.uk/environ/weedsact/default.htm.
Review of Enforcement Activities under the Weeds Act
6. Defra's primary aim, in investigating complaints under the Weeds Act, is to protect livestock and agricultural activities. As a result of a recent review of enforcement it has been agreed that a high priority will be given to complaints where:
weeds are threatening land used for:
keeping or grazing horses and other livestock, or
farmland used to produce conserved forage, or
other agricultural activities, and;
the complainant has made reasonable efforts to contact the landowner or occupier where the weeds are growing.
In all cases, Defra will encourage the complainant to take the matter up with the occupier of the land on which the injurious weeds are growing, to avoid the need to invoke the formal powers in the Weeds Act wherever possible.
7. In most cases low priority complaints will be acknowledged, but will not be subject to any follow up action. Low priority complaints will be kept on file for 12 months and if the complainant contacts us again with new information the status of the complaint will be reviewed.
8. Defra will attempt to follow up all high priority complaints. Initial contact with the occupier of the land where the weeds are growing will be by correspondence. However, if that does not resolve the problem, an Inspector from the Rural Payments Agency will be asked to carry out a site visit. No enforcement notices requiring the occupier of the land to take action to clear injurious weeds have been issued under the Weeds Act in the last two years. However under the new enforcement procedures an Inspector will be able to issue an enforcement notice on-the-spot. If the visit from the Rural Payments Agency Inspector and the issue of the enforcement notice does not resolve the problem, an officer from the Rural Development Technical Service will be asked to carry out a further site visit with a view to arranging for clearance of the weeds by a private contractor.
9. Complainants retain a key role in enforcement, as at every stage in the enforcement process further action will be only be taken where the complainant informs Defra that the required action to clear the weeds has not been taken. But RDS staff have been asked to ensure that from now on all complaints are prioritised according to the categories above, and specifically that complaints about land used for horses are given the same priority as for any other livestock. The necessary forms and guidance notes are being revised in line with the revised procedures and should be in place for use by the end of July. They will be available from :
Defra, Block 3, Government Buildings,
Burghill Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol
BS10 6NJ Tel: 0117 959 8622
Avon, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hereford & Worcester, Hertfordshire, Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, Kent, London Boroughs, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire, West Midlands, West Sussex, Wiltshire
Defra, Electra Way, Crewe, Cheshire
CW1 6GJ Tel: 01270 754262
Cheshire, Cleveland, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Durham, Greater Manchester, Humberside, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire
10. The Highways Agency is also supporting The British Horse Society's annual "Ragwort Action Week" campaign by dispatching teams of contractors to purge this year's growth of the weed from the verges of the trunk road network. The Agency takes the problem very seriously and continually looks for new, environmentally friendly techniques that can be used. The Agency spends in the region of £1 million each year to help control the spread of ragwort along the 5,863 miles of trunk roads and motorways it operates in England.
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