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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 27th August 2013

I decided I should try and get fitter and lose some weight but, knowing me, I knew there was no point going all out on some extreme fitness regime or diet so I resolved to begin by walking a lot more. It has taken me a couple of years to get into this state so I shan’t worry if it takes me a year or so to get out of it.

I also decided that I should combine walks where the aim was to cover the distance as fast as possible with others where I was just interested in seeing what was around me. Yesterday, I drove to Greenlaw and out along a quiet road that runs through farmland and managed woodlands before walking about for an hour seeing what I could spot under the trees.

It’s an area where, in 2008, I got some reasonably good pictures of Amanita muscaria, fly agaric. I stitched some of them together to make this short video (with no sound).

Video deleted

Since 2008, the trees seem to have thickened at lower levels making it impossible to get into the woodland (over the fence that surrounds it) and, for whatever reason, the fungus has produced far fewer fruiting bodies. I only saw one, yesterday, and needed to crank up the digital zoom on my camera to manage to get even this poor shot.

Amanita muscaria, fly agaric 

Elsewhere, I saw quite a bit of Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort. By now much of it is setting seed and has very few flowers. This one plant, however, was in full flower and covered in many different types of insects.

Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort 

Because it is easy to spot the insects when they move, I also made this short video (with no sound) to make clear the number of species that visit ragwort in flower.

Talking of ragwort, this summer has seen the usual crop of silliness from some organisations and parts of the media that don’t trouble to check what they are printing. Something odd struck me about the whole ragwort saga a while ago and, today, it seems I may not be alone.

I participate in a general discussion forum that has a wide range of topics. A while ago, there was a thread about changes to the benefit system and one person bemoaned the problems his son had experienced in getting the full level of support. Another thread, shortly after, was about how much people spend on hobbies and this same person mentioned the cost of keeping his horses. It seemed to me to be a little odd to expect the state to fund the care of a family member to such a degree that it did not interfere with the cost of stabling and feed for horses.

It made me wonder if that might be typical of horse-owners. It certainly would explain a lot of the arguments about ragwort. As I’ve said too many times to list, the problem with ragwort is twofold. One, if animals are kept in too small an area of land, it can get churned up and provide the conditions for ragwort to germinate. And two, if insufficient care is taken in producing conserved forage, ragwort can be incorporated and, once dead, is palatable.

So, the answer to the potential problem of ragwort, without getting into how that potential is over-stated, is for horse-owners to spend a little more to have enough pasture and pay for top quality forage. But, instead of doing that it seems many horse-owners, if the various horse-related bodies speak for them, would rather the majority is deprived of the benefits of the biodiversity supported by Jacobaea vulgaris. That makes it a rich versus the rest issue.

And, today, it seems Matthew Parris of the Times may have reached that same conclusion. Unfortunately, his piece is behind the Times paywall so I can only tell you that it is headlined ‘What’s nasty, yellow and weedy? Our class system’   and says in the second preview paragraph ‘What I’ve learnt, though, is that (like so much in Britain) ragwort is a class issue.’

I think it unlikely that the media will ever be persuaded to listen to science rather than accepting press releases from bodies with a vested interest in the eradication of common ragwort but, perhaps, they could be made to see the illogicality of pursuing an anti-elitism agenda when it comes to bankers and ‘free-loading’ politicians whilst espousing elitism when it comes to the horse-owning minority spreading lies about a plant.   

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