Smallholding

Weeds

Weeds such as thistles, docks, ragwort and nettles can be a problem in grassland. They are generally unpalatable and unproductive, yet use up soil nutrients and shade out grass. Fortunately, while regular cutting encourages grass growth, it is bad for these weeds, so regular cutting before they can set seed will help to eliminate them.

The exception is ragwort. Ragwort is poisonous to most animals but while growing, it is bitter and unpalatable; once it is cut, it becomes more palatable but remains just as poisonous. It is a biennial i.e. grows in the first year and flowers in the second. So ragwort should be dug out by its roots and burned before it sets seed and before any pasture is cut.

RagwortRagwort

Fortunately, its distinctive yellow flowers make it easy to spot in its second year, but it is best to get to recognise the distinctive rosette growing in the first year and dig that out too, if you can, especially if you are planning to cut the grass for conservation.

Whenever we walk our paddocks in spring and summer we try to remember to carry our Rag Fork with us - it's worth buying this special tool, it makes it extremely easy to lift ragwort plants cleanly, including their roots.

Annual meadow grass is a low-growing, unproductive grass that grows on most soil types. It is a prolific coloniser of bare, disturbed ground, such as poached areas around gateways and feed troughs or in newly sown grassland. Chickweed presents similar problems. Both can be killed by herbicides, but these will also kill clover. These weeds are part of the reason that ploughing and reseeding is problematic. Try to avoid the problem by not overstocking and by moving feed troughs regularly.

Under the 1959 Weeds Act, occupiers of all land must take action to prevent the spread of the following five weeds:

  • Spear thistle
  • Creeping or Field thistle
  • Curled dock
  • Broadleaved dock
  • Common Ragwort

There is a common myth that ragwort is a "notifiable" weed - it is not, there is no such thing as a "notifiable weed", and there is no obligation to report its presence to any authority. The 1959 Act  gives the Government the power to order a landowner to prevent these weeds from spreading, but without such an order there is no legal obligation on a landowner to do anything.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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