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Ragwort, cinnabar moths and bee boxes

Date posted: Monday 9th July 2018

Ragwort, cinnabar moths and bee boxes

The flowering ragwort has been covered with cinnabar moth caterpillars over the past week or so – I’ve never seen such a profusion of them!

Ragwort has a bad press because of it’s toxicity to horses, but it’s only harmful once cut and dried, where it gets into the animal feed, and it’s a valuable nectar source:

“Horses are susceptible to Ragwort poisoning via two main routes; 1. Grazing in fields containing Ragwort. Ragwort is not a preferred food plant for horses however, problems arise where paddocks and fields are over grazed and animals have no choice but to eat toxic plants. Moreover, over-grazing opens up the turf to reveal bare ground which is ideal for Ragwort seed germination. To this extent, horse owners can generate the very problem that they wish to avoid.
2. The presence of Ragwort in stored food such as silage or hay. The plant is still toxic when dead, but horses are less able to detect and avoid it. For this reason, hay from fields with Ragwort should not be fed to stock or horses.

At least 30 insect species (and 14 fungi species) are entirely reliant on Ragwort, and about a third of the insects are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also an important nectar source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to support populations in the UK countryside.
Although Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) can be a problem for some horses and their owners, it is an extremely important plant in the British countryside and on urban waste ground for the number of insect species it supports. At least 77 invertebrate species have been recorded eating Ragwort leaves, or living in the stems and flowers. About 52 of these are known to regularly feed on Ragwort and, more importantly, 30 species are entirely dependant on Ragwort, the Cinnabar moth for example, a beautiful macro moth. About a third of these 30 species are scarce or rare.
Ragwort is also an important nectar source for over one hundred species (117, says English Nature) of butterflies (Small copper is just one), bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to maintain insect populations generally in the UK countryside.” (Buglife: Weed or Wildflower)

The beebox behind the front entrance bed (the Bee Bed aka Pollinator Patch!) has been attracting new tenants and also my plot neighbour’s box, placed higher up than mine, but with curious possible residents around!