Saturday, 25 August 2012

The insidious skin myth.

One of the examples of how nasty the campaign against ragwort has been is the effect of the skin absorption myth. This is the false story that you can be poisoned by handling ragwort. You can get an allergic reaction from it, like many members of the daisy family, but the toxins that damage the liver are in the wrong form to cause problems.

This is someone being really worried by this myth on  a Gardening Forum

Hello there,
We have just got ourselves an allotment and are in the process of clearing it of weeds. Unfortunately, both of us have had a severe reaction to the weeds which we now realise is ragwort. After reading about the dangers of ragwort we are very worried as one listed danger was damage to the liver.
Can anybody reassure us that we will be okay?! At the moment we are covered in sore blistered spots. My daughter has had a particularly nasty reaction on her neck which is causing her severe pain. She is taking antibiotics for this at the moment as the doctor suspected it was a bad insect bite!
What bad luck! Someone please tell us we will be alright!
Thank you.
Well yes I can reassure you. The toxins are poorly absorbed, it takes a lot to poison you, and they are in the wrong form. I blogged about this before in detail. and they have already been given some details by someone else on the forum.
This is one of the really irritating things about this myth as people being scared and hurt by these insidious false stories. It can be really worrying to think you have been poisoned. You can hardly blame people, the story is all over the web and even in government publications, but  those of us  who have studied the science in detail know it isn't true.

It is pretty clear that this is an allergy.  What is important I think to these people is that they get the skin problems sorted and take care in future handling plants of the daisy family.
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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

University of Edinburgh and dodgy information

One indication of how bad the hysteria over ragwort has got is how people and organisations who one would expect to know better get things wrong.

Today's example comes from twitter. and the account Equine Science ‏@eqscied which carries the following text in its profile.
Find out more about our exciting online distance learning programme at the University of Edinburgh!
This is followed in the profile by a link to the equine science course. You might expect something with the word "science" it its title to be distributing good information but my issue today is with this following rather truncated tweet.

CONTROLLING RAGWORT Cutting ragwort down will not kill the plant - it may even encourage more growth! However, as.
 My problem is not so much with the text of the tweet but the link that follows it. It goes to what I think, on the basis of the evidence, is rather a dodgy website full of poor information.

These are just some of the issues I have with the site. It says:-

When ragwort appears on agricultural or equestrian property the landowner is legally required to treat and clear it.
 This is incorrect. There is no automatic legal requirement to treat and clear ragwort. I keep saying this so rather than repeat myself. Here is a briefing on ragwort law

Then it makes several highly misleading statements

  • Each ragwort plant can produce about 150,000 seeds
  • The seeds have a 70% germination rate.
  • Seeds can remain dormant for up to 20 years.
  • Seeds are spread widely by the wind.

150,000 would be highly exceptional.  70% germination rate is a lab figure that bears no relation to what happens in nature. 20 years is an exceptional time for a tiny number of seeds to survive.

 (Subsequent to the writing of this entry an leaflet from an equine charity was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for making the false claim that every plant produced 150,000 seeds)

Finally the seeds are NOT normally spread widely by the wind, we know this both from the mathematics of  aerodynamics and gravity. They have parachutes not powered flight and the studies that have been done show that they normally only go a matter of metres. Here is a  briefing on ragwort seed dispersal.

 I am editing this blog entry to add one of the most egregious pieces of real nonsense as it has just been pointed out that I failed to comment on it.

A horse or pony can be poisoned by ragwort without even having any plants in their grazing area. Seeds from ragwort plants in neighbouring paddocks and fields can be blown across and contaminate an area apparently free from ragwort. A horse or pony can inhale or eat these seeds and become affected by cumulative poisoning.
I blogged about this before with a detailed analysis As I said then I try to write this blog with a dispassionate style as reflects the proper nature of the science behind it, but on this occasion this piece of prose deserves to be described properly.


There are a lot of scare stories about ragwort and as I proviously blogged the evidence shows quite clearly that a lot of things are just made up.
The Advertising Standards Authority has even become involved

I think the University of Edinburgh should take more care!
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Monday, 13 August 2012

The CLA Only Fools and Horses?

I got started on this issue really as I found the hysteria around ragwort intellectually offensive. The cluelessness of the people spreading it and the nonsense and irrationality offended my sense of reason. Sometimes though it seems to become almost comic, where bungling opponents seem to open their mouths and put both feet firmly inside. Seemingly making such complete and utter fools of themselves through getting basic facts wrong. Such seems the case with the Country Land and Business Association . Try as I might, I cannot remove the image from my mind of their people travelling around in scruffy yellow "loverly jubberly", yellow, three wheeled, Reliant Robin vans. ( Actually Reliant Regal would be more accurate.) This really seems to be an only fools and horses scenario, The cluelessness seems so obviously apparent.

They recently put out a series of stories covering the usual panic about ragwort.
As a result we had several of the usual unchecked stories being broadcast by the BBC.

On the Aleena Naylor show on BBC Radio Derby they put out the story that ragwort was spreading.
There is a proper government survey done on very scientific lines and it actually shows very clearly that ragwort is declining.
 Donna Traveller the CLA's representative appeared to make a right fool of herself by not knowing a simple elementary fact about the law. She said when asked about the 1959 Weeds Act
Under the 1959 act people have to make an effort to stop the spread of ragwort.
This is not correct. The act places no responsibility on anyone to do anything unless they receive an official order to do so and what is more there is guidance that says that it shouldn't always be controlled. It seems quite clear that it doesn't say what she claimed it does. Here is a briefing on ragwort law.

On the Breakfast show on BBC Shropshire the story was also covered as coming from the CLA. They interviewed two anti-ragwort people and in a really atrocious piece claimed, against the research  that ragwort  is

"becoming more and more prolific"
The interviewer said that it was " a bit like a dock leaf" and got the answer "a little bit yes"

This seems to be a typical example of atrocious ignorance. To me they are not the slightest bit alike other than that they are both leaves. Ragwort leaves are quite ragged as its name suggests and dock has an entire leaf without any significant indentations at all. Goodness knows what people will be pulling up if they think these plants are similar.

Furthermore the woman quite astoundingly said
 "Landowners would be great if they could clear the verges that but onto their own land."
That's right! It seems she told people to go onto land that they don't own on the verges and remove plants. This seems utterly shocking to me that  we have an item on the BBC that suggests this.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states.

if any person—.
(a)intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or.
(b)not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule,.
he shall be guilty of an offence.

If you are not the landowner or a similarly authorised person you cannot legally just go around uprooting plants. More details can be found here.
Oh and what does the CLA think.  Well after tweeting :-

Help rout the annual menace of ragwort, urges CLA via @sharethis
They tweeted :-

Excellent informative piece on #ragwort on BBC #Shropshire breakfast show this morning. 

Excellent? Informative? Poor information on the distribution   and apparent suggestions to break the law. If they think that is excellent SHAME ON THEM!

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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Silly Olympic panic!

Oh dear. I was working on a longer more complicated post, which I may post later in the day, but my eye has just been caught by some really really stupid hysteria on twitter. People are complaining that they can see some ragwort by one of the Olympic cycle tracks.

I see some rather hysterical seeming person is so convinced by all the misinformation has just suggested I might be a "troll"on Twitter. I am not. I have spent years studying the science on ragwort and I am offended by the nonsense that is regularly in the horsey and other press. It is a characteristic of scientific minded people like me not to like unscientific nonsense.

 Sally Scheffers ‏@thursleyfarmer

#MTBHadleigh the course looks great but couldn't someone have pulled the mass of ragwort. The roadsides are bad enough but an Olympic venue?

Sondes Place Farm Sondes Place Farm ‏@Sondesplacefarm

@LouNfu @BakersofHP I tweeted this rough pic of the tv the other day showing a bbc LDN journo with ragwort behind !

 Graham Campbell Graham Campbell ‏@gc_skye

Watching women's mountain biking at Olympics. Great viewing, but the ragwort at side of track & in fields very distracting for a crofter!
from Highland, Highland

 VinceNoirElectroStar VinceNoirElectroStar ‏@MightyBooshBoo

@221B_Gemma what is ragwort?

 Tim Thomas Tim Thomas ‏@timofnewbury

the deep yellow of ragwort flowering appears alongside the Women's cross country #MTB cycling course #London2012 #Olympics

 N M Fencing N M Fencing ‏@NM_Fencing

Someone needs to get out and pull some of the ragwort at #HadleighFarm #mountainBiking

Rachael Rachael ‏@B_R_I_L

Lovely great swathes of ragwort at the #Olympics2012 #cycling circuit!! I see they don't know it should be pulled up!!

 Gemma Alonso Holmes Gemma Alonso Holmes ‏@221B_Gemma

The amount of ragwort in the background of the mountain biking is making me want to cry.

 The Lavender Lady The Lavender Lady ‏@LavenderLadyUK

Can't concentrate on the cycling #olympics because I'm mesmerised by all the ragwort #toxic
This just shows the level of hysteria. The plant is not dangerous to people. It is very important ecologically and there isn't even that much risk to livestock.

This all started it seems based on silly and highly exaggerated claims of animal deaths. Yes the plant is poisonous but the problem has been exaggerated. The silly figures were supposedly based on recorded deaths of horses at an animal hospital. I have checked with them and they recorded no cases at all for the five years for which figures were available 2006-2010.

It might just be clear to people because I have a blog on the subject that I might know something about it, but just let me make it clear. I have been studying ragwort and the reaction to it for years. I have other experts from across the world who help me research and support what I am saying.

The Advertising Standards Authority, who are independent and just look at the facts, stopped a whole batch of adverts that were passing on the usual nonsense last year..

These people are panicking over nothing.

It isn't against the law. It isn't a problem there at the Olympics and NO it should not be pulled up.

See this posting for more information

And finally to those tweeting. A future or current employer might judge you by your tweets so please be sensible. It is also AGAINST THE LAW To just pull it up on someone else's land.

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