Ragwort. A much maligned plant because it is poisonous to livestock, and can be an indicator of bad grazing management, in particular overgrazing, which creates bare ground in which the seed can germinate. There is legislation, enforced by Defra, to control the plant. And yet on shingle beaches this plant behaves differently, and is actually of great value.
Shingle beaches tend not to be grazed these days, with a few exceptions, and the success of ragwort is down to the droughty nature of the soil. The seed can get established in areas that are drought stressed, or perhaps disturbed by rabbits. Walking across a very dry bit of Dungeness the other day I came across this little patch of gold.
It was a highly localised, but dense patch of the plant, growing with viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare, another disturbance indicator. What was noticeable was that the plants were growing in a very deep shingle hollow – a former piece of coast that almost turned into an Oppen Pit, except that the shingle does not quite reach below the water table.
So why is the plant valuable? Read the rest of this entry »