Our Ranger team and volunteers have been busy in the last few weeks pulling ragwort from some of our Community Woodland sites. If you've already read this blog by Lucy our work experience student you'll know that it can be a difficult and exhausting task - so why do we do it?

Ragwort is much maligned plant, but it’s important to remember all the good it does too! Appropriate management is often a contentious issue, so to help with understanding we've covered some of the pros and cons and reasons behind why we do (and don't) remove ragwort from our sites.

What is ragwort?

Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is native wildflower found commonly throughout the UK. It's biennial so flowers every second year from June through to autumn.

Ragwort is a fantastic flower for pollinators and is very attractive to insects, in fact the Wildlife Trust state that common ragwort is one of the 'most frequently visited flowers by butterflies in the UK and more than 200 species of invertebrate have been recorded on it’.

It is also the foodplant of the cinnabar moth caterpillar. The adults lay their eggs on the lower leaves, then beautiful black and orange striped caterpillars emerge anytime from now through to August, eating their way up the plant (often stripping it bare!) The adult is a vibrant black and red moth, often seen flying on sunny days, as well as at night.

This sounds great - what's the catch...?

Although good for pollinators and insects, ragwort can be highly poisonous to livestock if consumed. The living plant has a bitter taste, so is usually naturally avoided by grazing animals if there is alternative forage in grazing nearby. Problems arise, however, when the plant is cut with grass and then dried into hay - the act of drying removes the unpleasant bitter taste of the plant which means it becomes more palatable, therefore more easy to consume by accident.

Interestingly the cinnabar moth caterpillar actually stores the ragwort’s ‘poison’ in their bodies making them very unpalatable to birds - hence the warning stripes on the caterpillars and the red and black wings on adults.

How we manage ragwort on our land

At Millennium County Park and our Wiles Wood and Wood End Thrift Community Woodland we must remove all ragwort from our hay meadows and other areas within our Environmental Stewardship agreement. Because we try to avoid the use of herbicides where we can we usually hand pull the plants with the help of our volunteers.

We also have a duty to prevent spread of ragwort from our land to neighbouring landowners who have agricultural fields or grazing animals. We regularly liaise with our neighbours so any ragwort causing them concern can be discussed and remove if necessary. If the ragwort goes to seed it can get blown over.

However all of our sites are risk assessed and regularly monitored, and where we have ragwort growing somewhere unlikely to cause potential problems to either ourselves or our neighbours, we're able to leave it.

Ragwort is a difficult plant to manage but - by working with landowners and with the help of our volunteer team - we’re able to minimise the risk to livestock whilst still providing a wildlife haven for pollinators and insects on our sites.

Managing our woodland can be tricky (and expensive) - can you help?

As a Community Forest charity we manage our woodlands for the benefits of people and wildlife, and that means that sometimes the best solution isn't always the cheapest option. For just over £1 per week you can help support the work we do:

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