What’s the problem with Stinking Willie?

Common ragwort, the bane of horsey people. Also known as St James’ Wort, Staggerwort, Stammerwort, Yellow tops, and, the best of all, Mare’s fart.

Those who keep horses are religious about labouriously hand pulling every plant from their paddocks. Yet horses and other grazing animals find it bitter and will not normally eat the growing plant unless the cover is so dense that grazing is actually difficult. They will, however, eat the dried plant. Sheep can tolerate the plant, either fresh or dried.

It is one of the plants covered by the Weeds Act 1959, amended by the Ragwort Control Act 2003. This Act gives DEFRA the power to order a landowner to take steps to control the plant but not eliminate entirely.

Yet you can’t walk past a Ragwort without noticing the dozens of bees and insects feeding on it, insects which in turn attract swallows and swifts. Look closely and you might see the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth.
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