Rampant ragwort has been highlighted as a growing problem this year for cattle and horse owners in particular.
The brightly coloured yellow flower which grows prolifically as a weed in the island’s hedges and verges may be good for insect life as an abundant source of pollen but is toxic to cattle, highly poisonous to horses and even potentially harmful to humans if handled without gloves.
Chris Kneale of the Department of Environment Food and Agriculture said the plant – which is the island’s national flower – can cause liver damage. Though bitter in taste, once cut he added the plant becomes sweet to the taste and can easily then be eaten by horses in amongst hay.
Mr Kneale added the wet weather last year meant fields had been churned up making it easier for weeds to grow through the grass when the warm weather arrived this year.
Hilary Shimmin of the British Horse Society in the island said it was a real danger for horses: ‘Fortunately you can spot the signs and the effect is not immediate but cumulative. It does not seem to have been cut back this year from the hedges and verges and then it goes to seed and spreads. I keep pulling it up when I’m out and about.’
Environment Food and Agriculture Minister Phil Gawne agreed it posed a problem for grazing animals but added new legislation - the Weeds Act - brought into force earlier this year would help.
The legislation means enforcement notices can be issued to specific landowners requiring them to take action against certain harmful weeds, including ragwort, if they are prevalent on their land, or face a fine.
‘The other side of the argument is that is contributes to our rich bio-diversity,’ Mr Gawne added.
‘It’s rich in pollen and a good resource for certain insects - certain types of moth for example. It is true that in recent years there has been less money available.’
Manx National Farmers’ Union secretary Belinda Leach said growing conditions seemed to have been very favourable this year and wild flowers of all varieties had been abundant.
‘In the old days Highways Board staff used to pull (ragwort) up by hand and it was swept away but that does not happen now,’ she said.
But Bill Corlett, of the Department of Infrastructure said there had been no reduction in the amount of hedge and verge trimming in recent years though it was done less frequently now than 10 years ago.
‘It’s people’s perception,’ he said.
‘If growing conditions are good there is more vegetation because it grows faster. People then think we are cutting less often, but that’s not the case,’ he said.