FARMERS, landowners and others are being urged to root out a potential killer from the North Yorkshire countryside this summer.

Each year the deaths of many horses and ponies are attributed to ragwort poisoning.

The plant, easily identifiable at this time of year from its bright yellow flowers, contains an alkaloid toxin which can be fatal to horses, ponies and other livestock.

Its effects can be cumulative and there is no effective antidote. Although many horses seem instinctively to avoid the weed, if it is not pulled up and burned it could be cut at haytime and inadvertently fed as fodder.

Seeds from the plants also spread far and wide, allowing the ragwort to take root and flourish elsewhere, which is an offence under the Weed Act 1959.

The chairman of Ryedale's community services committee, Elizabeth Shields, said: "This year the problem has hit the district even earlier than usual and I urge local people to root out this deadly plant and stop the lethal threat it poses to the lives of horses and ponies."

One of the most effective ways of getting rid of ragwort is to pull it up by hand - but gloves must be worn and hands washed after handling the plant.

An area of land which has already been badly affected this year is Norton Road, near Malton railway station, and land near Highfield Road, Malton is also awash with the weed.