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Managing trees and ragwort at Haresfield Beacons and Standish Wood

Ragwort in the parkland at Trelissick, Cornwall
Ragwort | © National Trust Images/Hilary Daniel

Trees and the ragwort wildflower may look beautiful but there is a problematic side to them too: some trees might spread a fungal disease and endanger visitor safety, while ragwort is poisonous to animals when eaten. Find out more about the extent of these dangers and how we are tackling them at Haresfield Beacons and Standish Wood, from tree surgery and felling to pulling up the plants.

Managing ragwort

The bright yellow flowers of the common ragwort can be seen brightening up the countryside the length and breadth of Britain. After flowering its seeds are dispersed by the wind, making it one of the most widespread of all wildflowers.

You'd never know though that the yellow daisy-like flowers that grace so many fields and verges are actually poisonous to animals, particularly to horses and livestock.

A wildflower nasty

Despite its pretty appearance, ragwort contains harmful toxins. When eaten by grazing animals it can damage their liver and lead to liver failure in extreme cases. Cows and horses are most susceptible.

Although most know to avoid it in the field, when dry and hidden in bales of hay it can be quite toxic.

Controlling ragwort

In meadows that we graze and cut for hay, we work hard to remove as many of the plants as we can. The rangers spend hours during the summer pulling up the plants by hand to help keep the cattle safe.

Ranger felling damaged trees at Greenway, Devon
Ranger felling damaged trees | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Managing the trees

It's important we manage the woods and trees so that they stay healthy and strong. Our ultimate aim is to keep the trees alive for as long as possible.

Although some trees may look healthy, they can often hide problems. To detect issues at an early stage, the rangers undertake regular tree health surveys. This helps to determine their present health and whether any action needs to be taken.

Felling and thinning

It may seem extreme to fell what looks like a healthy tree or branch, but the decision is based on a number of factors, including woodland structure enhancement, habitat improvement and visitor safety.

In some cases we need to thin small areas where there has been extensive squirrel damage causing the trees to become weak, or where there is fungal disease.

‘The aim is to maintain the overall look of the woods by subtly taking out those that are of concern, as well as the smaller self-sown trees that make the woods feel congested.’

- Tim Jenkins, Area Ranger

Tree surgery

Some of the larger trees are climbed and worked on by specialist tree surgeons. They're able to reduce the crown of the tree by removing the worst affected branches. This reduces the need for the whole tree to be cut down.

When the trees come back into leaf in the spring, it's often difficult to spot the work that's taken place over the winter.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Visitors walking dogs at Haresfield Beacon, Gloucestershire.


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