That is very interesting. I did know that in days gone by ragwort was used to cleanse what are described as old filthy ulcers in the privities.
A positive view of ragwort is, however, shadowed by the worrying threat that it poses to horses. I confess that the threat was originally brought home to me by my young son coming home with his pony club dangerous plants badge and telling me all about it.
The clusters of yellow summer-flowering weeds that grow up to 3 ft high are, of course, highly poisonous. All the figures available suggest that equine liver disease caused by ragwort poisoning killed at least 500 horses last year, and will probably kill 1,000 this year. Ragwort poisoning is almost undetectable until it is too late, with horses not showing symptoms until almost 75 per cent. of their liver has been rotted away, at which point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale explained, they start to display a variety of behavioural abnormalities—becoming confused and disoriented, wandering aimlessly, and even banging their heads against brick walls.
My hon. Friend referred to Dr. Derek Knottenbelt of Liverpool university, the acclaimed expert in the subject. He has reported that because of the nature of death by liver failure—in some cases, without any warning, horses have been found dead—it is possible that many more cases of death by ragwort poisoning have been wrongly attributed to heart attack, stroke or colic. However, there are no routine autopsies in the equine world.
Whatever the numbers involved in ragwort poisoning, it is clear that the plague of ragwort and its rapid increase since the strange disappearance of the cinnabar moth 10 years ago mean death for horses. The reasons for the disappearance of the cinnabar moth have been discussed today; my findings tend to support the opinion of Shona McIsaac. In effect, the moth is a victim of its own success, having munched its way through the vast reserves of the weed at some time in the past.