TO MOST people, it's just a pretty flower, but ragwort can cause liver disease and even death in horses, cattle and wild animals.

The weed is such a problem the Oxfordshire branch of the British Horse Society has this year spent £4,000 on employing a team to remove it from the county's hedgerows and verges.

Four people have been carrying out a three-week, two-fold attack, pulling up the weed and educating farmers and landowners about its dangers.

The team has been removing the ragwort plants by hand, before bagging them up and leaving them to be collected and burned.

They have also been handing out leaflets and speaking to people about the dangers.

A common sight in the British countryside, ragwort can produce up to 150,000 seeds, which can live in the soil for up to 15 years.

Alkalines in the seeds, if eaten, can cause cumulative liver damage and death in animals and are a particular problem for horses.

In one year, there were an estimated 500 deaths nationwide from ragwort poisoning.

Campaigner Dinah Harris, who runs the Hailey Equestrian Centre near Witney and is the welfare officer for the Oxfordshire British Horse Society, has been spearheading the campaign to remove the weed.

She said: "Ragwort has huge implications for all animals, not just horses. It's poisonous if eaten and can also be toxic to children when absorbed through the skin."

Ms Harris said it also had implications for humans, if seeds got into the food chain. She said: "It has now become an environmental issue. There is an increasing amount of ragwort getting on to farm fields, particularly now that more farming is organic."

She said too many people were unaware of the threat and the British Horse Society aimed to redress the situation through its campaign, which has been running for the past eight years.

She added: "People just don't realise the desperate importance of getting rid of this evil weed."

For more information, call Mrs Harris on 01993 702844.