§ Ms Atherton
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent research her Department has evaluated regarding the spread of ragwort; and what action her Department has taken to(a) combat the spread of ragwort and (b) publicise knowledge of its spread. 
§ Alun Michael
In 2001, the former MAFF commissioned an ADAS research project to review ragwort and its control with particular reference to horses. This included a study of the factors influencing the spread of ragwort, such as changes in land use, changes in agricultural policy and climate change. The study confirmed that these factors may influence the spread of ragwort. However, it concluded that there was insufficient scientific data to allow evaluation of the extent to which the prevalence of ragwort had increased as as result of them.
Defra investigates complaints about the spread of ragwort and other injurious weeds covered by the Weeds Act 1959 where there is a threat to farmed land or land used for the keeping of horses as part of a diversified farm businesses. When a complaint is received the occupier of the land will be asked to take action to clear the weeds. If this fails to resolve the problem, Defra has statutory powers under the Weeds Act to arrange for the weeds to be cleared and to recover the cost from the occupier of the land. In the majority of cases, complaints about ragwort are resolved through co-operation and persuasion, without the need to take legal action.
The spread of ragwort along the sides of roads and on railway land is of particular concern to many people in the countryside. I have recently written to the Highways Agency, Local Government Association and Railtrack reminding them of the serious problems that can be caused by ragwort and urging them to ensure that they take effective clearance action.
This year we have also revised guidance on the Weeds Act and two updated Defra leaflets are available. "The Weeds Act 1959—Preventing the spread of harmful weeds" gives general advice about the operation of the Weeds Act and "The Weeds Act 1959—Guidance note on the methods that can be used to control harmful weeds" provides technical advice on the control of ragwort and other injurious weeds. Both leaflets can be found on the Defra website and hard copies can be obtained from Defra publications.