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The British Horse Society British Horse Society Ragwort survey reveals disturbing new figures on horse fatalities

New figures show that about 6,500 horses and ponies died in 2002 after eating the lethal ragwort plant.

The figures, reached after a survey by The British Horse Society (BHS) and the British Equestrian Veterinary Association (BEVA), came as a shock. In 2001 similar research put the figure at only 500.

Veterinary surgeons, all members of BEVA, were this year asked to complete a questionnaire in a bid to discover the true numbers of animals suffering from suspected or confirmed ragwort poisoning. Results have shown that, nationwide, numbers far outstrip the conservative estimate given by Dr Derek Knottenbelt in 2001. Dr Knottenbelt, from the University of Liverpool, suggested at the time that some 500 horses had died from ragwort poisoning and he expected that figure to double in 2002. However, on being asked how many suspected or confirmed cases the vets had dealt with last year the estimate rose to over 6,500.

The survey produced a response rate of just over 4% with 84 replies from across Wales, Scotland and England. The number of confirmed or suspected ragwort cases in 2002 from those replies totalled 283, giving an average of 3.37 cases. Rolled out across the membership of BEVA (1,945) this equates to an annual total of 6,553 cases, far more than previously estimated.

Of the total number of responses 89% of the vets had dealt with suspected cases of ragwort poisoning and 75% had seen confirmed cases. The BHS and BEVA are concerned that there are many more undetected cases as few owners elect to have post mortems performed when their animals die.

County by county, Surrey was by far the worst affected with 103 cases and its neighbour Hampshire with 36. Further afield Lincolnshire and Norfolk had eighteen and sixteen cases respectively whilst Scotland had a total of seventeen.

BHS Chief Executive, Kay Driver, said, "This survey has shown what we have always feared, that the equine population in this country is under constant threat of poisoning from Common Ragwort ingestion. However hard a horse owner may try to keep pasture clear and to buy clean forage it is the responsibility of every landowner and occupier to practice a duty of care in keeping ragwort under control.

"The BHS' Private Members' Bill, Ragwort Control Bill, and sponsored by John Greenway MP, currently before Parliament will, if it becomes law, go a long way towards promoting active control through a statutory code of practice. Then, and only then, will we see a drop in the horrendous number of equines suffering death from ragwort poisoning."


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