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.

Wednesday 25th July 2012

Since there is going to be a certain amount of numbers in this piece, I thought I’d start by making one thing very clear. When I use a number to support my argument, it is robust, accurate and completely reliable. When you use a number to refute my point it is a statistic and we all know the one about ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.

It seems to me that it is this positioning that makes it so difficult for people to accept evidence, when it truly is, leading to the same subjects going round and round.

We are now three days into the British Horse Society’s Ragwort Awareness Week (RAW) and the survey has been available online since Monday. It is supposed to be a way of measuring the prevalence of Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

I’ve written about this several times before. The most recent piece was last Wednesday but if you follow the link, above, to the plant page you’ll get a full list of previous blog entries.

I’ll try not to repeat too much of what I’ve written before but, today, I want to concentrate on how a number becomes a statistic. The BHS press release announcing RAW says that its survey found that 75% of respondents reported seeing animals grazing in fields with the plant present or nearby. That’s fine, it is a perfectly easy to calculate number, assuming you have access to the full survey results as the BHS does.

The problem is that the BHS tries to present that number as evidence of the spread of common ragwort and hopes to use it to build its campaign for further action against the plant. And that is when it becomes a statistic.

The introduction to the RAW survey1 says;

if you spot any ragwort (emphasis added) close to or in fields grazed by horses, cattle or sheep during Ragwort Awareness Week (22 - 29 July) do take a couple of minutes to report it to us using this survey.’

It specifically asks you to complete the survey only if you have seen what you think was ragwort. If people completed the survey as instructed, then 100% of respondents would have seen a yellow plant in or near fields with grazing animals. That only 75% did doesn’t actually mean anything, because the survey doesn’t mean anything, but, from the BHS’s spinpoint, it means ragwort is not the problem the BHS is trying to make it out to be.

We know that the BHS is responsible for turning 75% from a number into a statistic because it appears on its own website. Other times, of course, the media is doing the lying in order to make a story more dramatic or more immediate.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

For once, I’m not going to provide any links for what follows. This is because I did not say, when making my enquiries, that I planned to publish any information supplied and I feel it would be impolite to go back now and seek it. In any event, the general point is what matters.

I saw a local newspaper report about RAW including quotes from a local equestrian facility. These said that ragwort was a serious problem requiring annual control activities and that, ‘last year’ a horse at the facility had died from liver failure resulting from the ingestion of ragwort.

I am genuinely interested to hear about specific cases of liver failure in horses especially if it can be attributed to animals grazing on living plants. For that reason, I tracked down the centre concerned and ask for more information about the case. The reply I received said that they were certain that the animal had not ingested ragwort on their property but had displayed symptoms of liver failure shortly after arriving from elsewhere. In other words, they did not know whether the animal had grazed on Jacobaea vulgaris or been fed dead plant material in poorly produced conserved forage whilst in someone else’s care.

More interestingly, they also said that this incident happened ‘a few years’ ago and not last year as claimed by the newspaper.

They went on to volunteer the information that the business had been operating for 27 years, that ragwort had needed to be removed every one of those years and that they had only lost two horses to liver disease in all that time. They were adamant that neither animal had ingested living ragwort whilst in their care. 


1.Ragwort Awareness Week Survey 2012 Survey Monkey

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

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

August 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 2013April 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.