Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Let's Not Lose Our Rag over This Weed

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Let's Not Lose Our Rag over This Weed

Article excerpt


INEVER cease to be surprised at the controversies that rage up here in Tweedo Paradiso after the townies have their say in the great countryside debates; take ragwort, for instance.

Everyone is talking about a fearsome letter in The Journal this week from a gentleman in Wales who was "dismayed by your recent coverage" ... of what, one might ask? Not of global warming, nor the recession, nor yet the situation in Afghanistan. He didn't even mention the new Chancellor's deceitful Budget decision to make the poorest poorer.

No. It was this newspaper's "outrageous, ridiculous" attack on that canary-yellow cow killer ragwort that had the red-rag-to-a-bull effect upon a Mr Jones of Neath in Glamorgan.

He has, it transpires, made a scientific study of the plant; while it is toxic, he concedes, cattle are far too sensible to eat the stuff (in the same way, perhaps, that we humans are too sensible to scoff burgers or drink alcohol).

Furthermore, he lists its beneficial uses: it attracts flies and was once used as a herbal treatment for hysteria. In other words, not very beneficial.

But I digress: it wasn't Mr Jones's views on ragwort that surprised me as much as the very nature of the subject itself. Who gets so worked up over the (obviously ineffective) eradication of ragwort? From time to time I have, I confess, teased the rude mechanicals up here for allowing their cattle to spread tuberculosis among badgers and for uprooting hedgerows in order to create profitable prairies, or brashing the hawthorn so severely that the songbirds take flight, never to return.

As a result, dear reader, I have endured an avalanche of protest: the Byreman put me right on behalf of the cattlemen and the then-Northumberland NFU chairman Tom Neill was so angered by something I wrote a couple of years back that I've tiptoed a careful path around his farms ever since.

But Mr Jones's letter worries me: we've seen acts of terrorism perpetrated against animal experimenters, the anti-foxhunting fiasco, the 'Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Badgers' brigade. …

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