In Ambivalence Towards Ragwort

I wrote yesterday about Highland Council’s move from laxity over its kerbside collection policy for plant waste to humourless enforcement. My main beef was my brown bin not being collected because of a random juice bottle which a passerby had tossed in, and I casually repeated the claim from the Council website that “notifiable weeds” such as Japanese knotweed and common ragwort were prohibitted previously collection policy.

In response, the googlebot fired-up for one Neil Jones at Ragwort Facts on Twitter and website who defends the virture of Senecio jacobaea (it is reassuring to know such eccentrics still exist!), who informed me that there is no such thing as a notifiable weed in this country; and inspection of his Twitter feeds shows he is most displeased that Highland Council is making this assertion.

Okay, let us not get into a discussion over the minutae of legislations surrounding weeds such as Japanese knotweed, and accept that regardless of there being no statutory obligation for private landowners to remove it, its presence would greatly damage their property prices as they are prohibitted from deliberately or casually transporting it from site to site. (There are foraging recipes for it, but one should ensure that no viable material is transporting from the collection site on clothes, and all waste material is boiled to destruction before being disposed of.)

My eyes had skimmed over the reference to ragwort, because I know this plant as chickenweed which I prefer not to have in my garden no more and no less than dandelions. So, when I find it, I dispose of it in my brown bin. This alternative name for it – with the Anglo Saxon suffix “wort” – alone should indicate its long providence in this country (unlike alien plants such as Japanese knotweed, or rhododendron). I had known that chickenweed contained biotoxins, although suspected that where goats or horses had been poisoned, it was due their eating considerable quantities under poor supervision; and a piece on Jones’ website bears this out.

Certainly, even if Highland Council were simply tipping-out the contents of our brown bins without any treatment, it would require multiple residents filling their bin each fortnight with nothing but chickenweed. And then it would require grazing animals to preferentially eat limp and worn-out leaves amongst the rest of the dumping site, instead of fresh specimens.

There may be no such thing as a notifiable weed, but chickenweed does not even fall into the same category as Japanese knotweed. The 1959 Weeds Act defines it as a specified or injurious weed which can grow on individual plots of land, whose owners can then dispose of them in whatever reasonable fashion they like. Legal recourse may be sought if they were growing out of control and affecting adjacent plots.

The four other specified weeds are spear thistle, field thistle, curled dock and broad leaved dock. Highland Council is, at the very least, being inconsistent in not prohibitting disposal of these weeds (mostly, I suspect, because they would be laughed out of Inverness if they tried).

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