THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 24th November 2014

There’s one point that must be included in every media training course for politicians. That’s the non-hysterical start that I favoured over the more hyperbolic ‘The first rule for politicians when dealing with the media is…’ I don’t actually know at what point it will be included in the course but I’m sure it is there.

It is the exhortation to not accept the premise of the question. If a journalist asks what the politician intends to do about the situation in Freedonia giving any answer simply confirms that there is a situation in Freedonia when there may not be.

The British Horse Society has published the results of its summer survey into Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, and some people have tried to argue with the numbers the survey has thrown up. I think that is a mistake because, it seems to be, that accepts the premise that the survey was capable of generating numbers that are worthy of evaluation.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

I want to argue that the survey’s questions were so badly structured (and there is always the chance this was entirely deliberate) that there is nothing to be gained from considering the results.

The first and most crucial point is that this was a self-selecting sample. Anyone who had an interest in the relationship between horse and ragwort was invited to complete the survey. The BHS is headlining that nearly one in five of respondents ‘knew personally of instances where horses had been suspected or confirmed as having been harmed by ragwort poisoning’ and is hoping that people will extrapolate that as applying to the general population of horse-owners.

That is not the case. You could argue that since just under 14,000 people completed the survey from a horse-owning population that the BHS itself says is 3.5 million then less that 0.5% of horse-owners have any interest in ragwort. Even if we say that only one in ten of the people who are concerned about ragwort bothered to fill in the survey that still means 95% of horse-owners who don’t think ragwort is an issue.

But what about that 1 in 5 anyway? These were people who ‘knew personally of horses that had health problems where ragwort poisoning was suspected or confirmed. This was among animals that either they owned or that were owned by their family, friends or neighbours’.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

‘Knew personally’ is not the same thing as saying ‘knew of incidents affecting ‘family, friends or neighbours’’. First of all, there is no attempt to define ‘friends’. Does that include people you know only from their posting in horsey forums? Even if it doesn’t it creates the possibility of the same incident being counted multiple times.

Suppose you belong to a riding club with 30 members, one of whom lost a horse ten years ago and maintains it was due to ragwort. If all 30 of you completed the survey, that one incident will have been counted 30 times. Go further, suppose that person has moved twice in those ten years, then three riding clubs have heard about the incident so, maybe, one incident was reported to the survey nearly 100 times.

Asking people to include ‘family, friends or neighbours’, therefore, makes the number of alleged incidents completely meaningless. I suppose something completely meaningless can’t be more completely meaningless but the example I created gives another reason for dismissing the survey. There is no time limit on the incidents. The survey did not ask for incidents that occurred in the past year or five years. It was open in terms of time. The BHS says that the average age of respondents was 30 and, given that horses tend to be a childhood interest that lasts a lifetime, for some, it seems to be reasonable to suggest that people were drawing on over ten years of experience when they reported that they ‘knew’ of incidents.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

There are plenty of other serious flaws in the survey but I’ll just deal with one. The BHS did not ask for any indication of whether the alleged incidents were the result of horses eating living plants or conserved forage containing ragwort. All the individual incidents involving cattle that I’ve seen were the result of conserved forage. Yet the BHS is trying to use its survey ‘results’ to promote a campaign of action against living plants growing in areas where they could not be a problem to animals of any sort rather than focussing on the people who take insufficient care when producing hay or other feedstuffs.

So, once again, the BHS has conducted a survey that has no value in determining the true extent of poisoning of horses. We have come nowhere since 2012 when I wrote:

‘Let me be completely clear about this; the surveys undertaken by the BHS will NEVER 'get a handle on the true prevalence of ragwort' and, even if they did, the prevalence is not important. It is the harm that matters and the BHS should spend its time discovering the true extent of disease from ragwort.’

 ‘My question to the BHS is, therefore, if it is convinced that common ragwort is causing such a problem, why does it not use some of its substantial reserves to undertake a proper, rigorous study of the effects of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) and then, if substantial effects are proved, finance a further study to identify the source of those PAs be it living Jacobaea vulgaris, conserved forage that has not been properly produced or any of the many other plants that contain PAs?’

'Poisonous Plants 1-2-1' introduction to common ragwort


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.