Thursday, 28 April 2016

Ragwort scandal shameful and fairy tales

Today's blog entry was originally inspired by a posting on twitter from NT Ranger Toby

Apr 22
lucky you! I'm split over ragwort... It gets persecuted just for grazing stock. So many species depend on it.

Today my honest opinions are basically a reply to his tweet, but they apply to everyone who is interested in the subject.

Other things have also recently emerged on this issue. As regular readers will know I have been studying the unjustified persecution of  ragwort for over a decade now and I work with a number of the large conservation bodies on this matter. My blog and website are personal, but I do sign letters to the press on behalf of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland. ( Scotland has an independent organisation.)
 I don't blog as often as I used to because I can now work in other ways.

As I said, I run  a website as well as this blog and the website contains the technical data and scientific references. To put it briefly ragwort is poisonous but the story that it is a serious problem is  invented. I used to say exaggerated. For sometime  now I have had the evidence to say invented.

One recent piece of evidence that came to light was when someone kindly provided me with a British Horse Society newsletter article from 2001 when they had been campaigning to vilify ragwort for a few years. A section by section critique of this article will eventually go on-line. It takes some time because it contains so much nonsense that digging out the scientific references from the thousands of records in my archive and compiling an accurate debunk takes a while.

I passed the article on to a fellow expert, a colleague who also studies the plant and the hysteria. The response I got was that it  was shameful, a scandal and that it was full of fairy tales.

The entire article is based on a false premise.  It is called, "The Increase in the Spread of Ragwort", which is a really bad title since a government survey subsequently showed that actually ragwort was markedly declining!

After going through a lot of nonsensical arguments of why this non-existent phenomenon was occurring, showing an ignorance of what SSSIs  are  and irrationally blaming them as a possible source of the non-problem, there was an account of how they started campaigning. It contains this very revealing statement.

"To begin with it was difficult to get the media interested. The first
question was always, "How many horses die of ragwort poisoning every year?". The answer of course was we don't know. We couldn't even come up with an owner whose horse had died of ragwort poisoning. The necessary 'case study' that is so vital for any media story." 
 It seems abundantly clear that they started campaigning just on the basis of the misconception that ragwort was increasing and before they had even identified  if there was a serious problem.

Oh yes, they did come up with some figures. These were repeated by companies in adverts for controls and then stopped after action by the Advertising Standards Authority because they were baseless, and wrong!  They claim to have found  case studies  of well cared for horses that were definitely poisoned. Those who know the veterinary literature properly will know  this is impossible since there isn't  a reliable test which tells ragwort poisoning from poisoning caused by common moulds in badly kept foodstuffs.

My website gives an explanation with referenced quotes from the textbooks here

The British Horse  Society has been feeding its members with a constant stream of inaccurate and irrational statements and even falsehoods.

Here are some examples.

One of its leading lights being quoted saying that the Cinnabar Moth is being poisoned by its natural foodplant. Yes, I laughed too, but it is in a textbook!

The same person claimed that our native ragwort is a serious problem in South Africa and may even have given people cancer there. I checked and the people who keep the records say there is no record of the plant ever being recorded there!

This is another piece of misinformation on my website. It is an example of one of its officers peddling blatant nonsense in a newspaper.

It is mostly like this and nearly everything that is put out makes no sense when compared to the evidence.

Now DEFRA's  Code of Practice has recently been withdrawn but many people will still be influenced by it and it is  worth considering is validity. It is very bad.
Their  advice is based on a whole series of falsehoods. At its core is an estimation of risk.

A figure of 500 horse deaths from ragwort poisoning in 2000. This figure is based on the number of confirmed horse deaths from ragwort poisoning seen by the Philip Leverhulme Large Animal Hospital Teaching Hospital at Liverpool University as a percentage of all the horse cases treated during the year, and grossed up to be representative of the total horse population.

They talk about, "confirmed horse deaths", but hang on,  didn't I just say that the textbooks say it cannot be confirmed? Yes , that is right!. DEFRA are wrong!

But what about those 500 horse deaths? Well. I cover it here:-

You cannot extrapolate like this. It breaks the rules governing  the mathematics of statistics and the hospital didn't actually get any cases, which were only suspected ones remember,  over a five year period. The whole basis of the Code of Practice is clearly false.

The basic message is horses co-evolved with ragwort. They avoid it unless starved cruelly into eating it. The whole fuss is perpetuated by campaigners who haven't a clue what they are talking about. Control measures should be limited to where there is a real risk. It shouldn't usually be required in conservation areas.

Since the awareness raising done by the BHS is based on falsehoods. We need to remove it from the equation, ignore the government advice based on their lobbying  and go back to how we used to behave. Any control measures should be based on evidence not nonsense. Anything else surely would be irrational?

Oh yes and the BHS has put out a so called Ragwort Toolkit that misleads people on the facts including very clear false statements about the law. You can find some info here :- Ragwort Toolkit

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