Concern grows over risk of horse poison

Graham Workman
Graham Workman

A WIGAN environmental expert has issued a stark warning to horse owners after the first cases of fatal sycamore poisoning were confirmed.

Graham Workman, biodiversity manager for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT) says all animal lovers should be very concerned about the spread of the fatal muscle disease, which affects horses that have eaten sycamore seeds.

Mr Workman said: “It’s a very worrying concern which is striking the borough. Sycamore seeds are very common throughout the town, it is rare to find a field without them in.

“They are usually in fields where horses graze and can fall 25 to 30 metres at any time. Not only this, but the autumn winds are sure to bring down seeds into pastures. And they can end up travelling up to 70 miles.

“Therefore even if a horse is in a field without sycamore trees, the seeds are extremely likely to still be present.

“So I would seriously urge horse owners to be extra vigilant of their surroundings.”

Sycamore seeds are toxic and can cause Seasonal Pasture Myopathy (SPM), which is a fatal muscle disease in horses.

And recent research discovered SPM to be caused by the toxin hypoglycin A, contained in tree seeds (fruit) including that of the sycamore.

Now experts are working around the clock to keep horses safe.

BVA president Sean Wensley said: “SPM is a disease that is extremely distressing for both the animal and the owner of the horse affected.

“BVA is working closely with our colleagues in BEVA, who deal with the aftermath of sycamore poisoning in horses all too often throughout the autumn, to ensure we get timely advice to owners to prevent their animals suffering in this way.”

Mr Workman has since issued tips to help protect the borough’s horses.

He said: “Horses that develop SPM are usually kept in sparse pastures with an accumulation of dead leaves, dead wood and trees in or around the pasture and are often not fed any supplementary hay or feed.

“While the seeds may not be directly palatable, horses grazing on poor quality pasture may ingest considerable numbers of them.”

He advised owners to restrict access to seeds by using temporary fencing and ensuring horses have access to good quality uncontaminated pasture.

Mr Workman added: “Be aware that a field without sycamore trees can still contain seeds spread by high winds or flood water.

“Do not prune seed laden trees as this can lead to massive pasture contamination and further increase the risk to horses.”