The previous article on ergot has been accused of scaremongering.
Rest assured this was not the intention, at least no more so than the multiple posts, seen on various pages, warning of the possible spreading of poisons in parks etc all over Wirral. These posts are not being held up to the same level of irresponsible ridicule meted out to the previous article.
If the intent was to scaremonger, perhaps an article on increasing flood risk in Hoylake would have been more appropriate, including a piece on sand dunes being our only defence. Now that would be scaremongering, yet this is continually being propagated as a truth with scant evidence, but that’s another story.
The previous article on ergot fungus (EF) and wilt of melon fungus (WMF) did not suggest keeping dogs from the beach, or the closing the beach to people and dogs by Wirral Borough Council (WBC).
It was about warning the general public of a NEW hazard present on Hoylake beach, which has only been recognised in the last year. This hazard has never previously been described on the shore, and people were unaware of its presence and any possible risk.
WBC has known (both informally, and formally) of the presence of these toxic fungi on the beach, but has so far failed to inform the public of this, or take any action, so people have not been given the opportunity to make any risk/benefit judgement regarding this possible new hazard.
The previous article also highlighted a possible risk to all terrestrial and marine animals and birds, not just dogs.
All the above said, let’s re-examine a few things:
Ergot (EF) grows on Spartina anglica and is a poisonous parasitic fungus. It’s toxicity has not diminished with time or evolution. Reductions in recorded ergot poisonings over time have only been seen because of identification of the pathogen responsible (EF), and excluding it from grain used in bread and cake making. Animal ergot poisoning has also been reduced by similar means. It’s presence on Hoylake shore has now been acknowledged, and it’s amount will only increase as Spartina (its natural host) spreads unchecked.
Wilt of melon fungus (WMF) is a parasite of ergot and is also a poisonous fungus, although not as well studied as ergot. It’s toxicity has not diminished with time or evolution. It is a parasite of ergot. It’s presence on Hoylake beach has also been confirmed.
Due to its host being EF, as ergot numbers increase, so does WMF.
Ingestion of a mixture of EF and WMF (as found on Hoylake beach where ergot growing on Spartina is also infected with WMF) has a doubling effect on the toxicity of each individual fungus.
The exposure of so many dogs and other animals to such a large amount of accessible ergot is a new phenomenon for Hoylake, and any resulting effects, due to ingestion of an unknown dose, on animal health will be poorly understood, and the flippant and off hand dismissal of a possible EF or EF/WMF hazard by some is frankly irresponsible, and some would say unprofessional.
Also, sporadic cases of natural poisoning are less easy to ascribe to EF, or a combination of EF and WMF, than those seen in feed related poisoning, as dose is unknown, and cause and effect are harder to link, yet they do occur, and have been documented in many species.
Others have stated absolute lethal dose levels in order to defend their claims and rubbish the previous article. This is fundamentally flawed as absolute doses will vary by species and breed. It would take a lot more EF or EF/WMF to be lethal to an elephant than would be lethal for a small breed dog, or a bird. Also dogs, and other animals ingesting sub lethal amounts of EF or EF/WMF may present with vague symptoms, which could be dismissed or misdiagnosed. Whilst these symptoms may not result in death, they may still be upsetting to both animals and owners alike.
Some people are quoting lethal doses, as if anything less than lethal is in some way acceptable. Smaller doses will have health impacts on animals, and even smaller doses ingested over a prolonged period may have damaging effects. These concerns should not be ridiculed or swept under the carpet just because they may damage a policy of beach neglect.
Unlike other well known poisonous wild/garden flowers and plants, whose poisonous natures are well known to the general public, ergot has no aesthetic value, is mostly unrecognised, and it’s properties unknown to many. The other plant hazards are historic, their toxic properties well known, warnings are given where appropriate, and eradication performed as necessary. For example, if a whole field of giant hogweed, deadly nightshade or death cap mushrooms was found, I would hope that the council would feel, if not legally, then certainly morally, obliged to act in some way, even if this was only in the form of warning signage.
In conclusion, these articles were not written to scaremonger, but to inform the general public, and perhaps spur Wirral Borough Council into taking some sort of action.
It is recommended that if you have any specific worries or questions regarding this subject you should consult your local vet.
For those with a more general interest in the subject, internet searches for ergot, ergotism etc may be fruitful.
For those with a more scientific interest I would suggest searching:
Below are a few links that may be of interest:
Nb: although some of these links specifically describe grain based poisoning, they serve to give good general descriptions that are applicable to ‘natural’ ergotism.
: Hoylake Beach Community, is a voluntary group who since the formation in October 2021, have been asking WBC for a compromise that will suit all.
The community group are campaigning for the restoration of PART* of the beach for recreation & relaxation with the remaining part being left to re-wild for nature and wildlife.*The section along North Parade from Kings Gap to the New RNLI station.
Hoylake Beach Community are not affiliated with any other group. HBC only use two forms of online communication. This website and a Facebook group which anyone is welcome to request to join. Search Hoylake Beach Community. HBC do not use any other social media.
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