Environmental management – guidance

Harmful weeds and invasive, non-native plants: prevent them spreading

How to identify, control and dispose of plants that can harm livestock and the environment.

The content on this page is in beta and may be updated frequently.

Plants that need control

You have a responsibility to:

  • prevent invasive, non-native plants on your land spreading into the wild and causing a nuisance
  • prevent harmful weeds on your land spreading onto a neighbour’s property

It is important that you can identify them so you can control them in the most appropriate way.

Prevent the spread of harmful weeds

A number of weeds are a danger to animals, or cause problems for agricultural production if left to spread unchecked. The following weeds are controlled by law:

  • common ragwort
  • spear thistle
  • creeping or field thistle
  • broad-leaved dock
  • curled dock

It’s not an offence to have these weeds growing on your land, but you must:

  • stop them spreading to agricultural land, particularly grazing areas or land used for forage, like silage and hay
  • choose the most appropriate control method for the your site, eg if it is a protected site
  • not plant them in the wild

If you allow these weeds to spread onto someone else’s property, Natural England could serve you with an enforcement notice. You can also be prosecuted if you allow animals to suffer by eating these weeds.

Control common ragwort

Common ragwort is the most commonly reported weed and can seriously harm grazing livestock, including:

  • cattle
  • horses
  • ponies
  • sheep

If you’re a livestock owner you should protect animals from ragwort poisoning. Any feed or forage containing ragwort is unsafe for animals.

Find out more about how to identify and control common ragwort.

See the guidance on preventing soil pollution on agricultural land if you control weeds with herbicides.

If you burn ragwort you must use an on-site biomass facility or permitted incinerator. If you need to burn off-site you must contact the Environment Agency (EA) to find a registered waste management company.

Complain about harmful weeds

If any of the weeds that are controlled by law spread onto your land, contact the responsible landowner or occupier and ask them to prevent them spreading.

If the landowner or occupier fails to take action, send the injurious weeds complaint form (PDF, 346KB, 4 pages) to:

Natural England
PO Box 2423

Telephone: 0300 060 1112

Email: cs.reading@naturalengland.org.uk (marked: ‘Weeds Act’)

Natural England will only take action if weeds are threatening land used for one of the following:

  • keeping or grazing horses and other livestock
  • farmland used to produce conserved forage (for example, silage and hay)
  • agriculture

Natural England will take the following steps:

  • write to the offending landowner to ask them to remove the weeds
  • write to you, to ask if they have been removed
  • visit the site, if the weeds remain
  • issue an enforcement notice to get them removed by the landowner
  • consider the option of a fine if a complaint reaches this stage

Prevent the spread of invasive, non-native plants

You must not plant in the wild or cause certain invasive and non-native plants to grow in the wild. This can include moving contaminated soil or plant cuttings. If you do, you can be fined or sent to prison for up to 2 years.

The most commonly found invasive, non-native plants include:

  • Japanese knotweed
  • giant hogweed
  • Himalayan balsam
  • Rhododendron ponticum
  • New Zealand pigmyweed (this is banned from sale)

You’re not legally obliged to remove these plants or to control them. However, if you allow Japanese knotweed to grow onto other people’s property you could be prosecuted for causing a private nuisance.

Find out how to identify invasive non-native plants.

Dispose of invasive, non-native plants

Spray plants

Spraying with herbicide is an effective treatment to stop invasive plants from spreading. You will have to re-spray. It usually takes:

  • 3 years to treat Japanese knotweed until dormant
  • 15 years for giant hogweed seeds to stop germinating

When using some herbicides you may need to:

To dispose of certain herbicides, you may also need:

Bury plants

Before burying non-native invasive plant waste on your land check with the EA to see if this is allowed.

You may need to inform the EA a week before you intend to bury the plant waste.

Burn plants

If you’re a farmer burning non-native invasive plant waste you must tell:

If you’re burning privately as an individual, you don’t need to do this but you should check with your local council that burning is allowed.

Businesses may also need an environmental permit or registered waste exemption.

Dispose off-site safely

Soil or plant material contaminated with non-native and invasive plants can cause ecological damage and may be classified as controlled waste.

It’s an offence to keep, treat or dispose of waste that could harm:

  • the environment
  • human health

You must use a licensed waste carrier and an authorised landfill site. To find a site that accepts the waste you can check with the site direct, contact your local authority or check the Environment Agency public register.

The following may need to be dealt with by a specialist contractor:

  • soil contaminated with some persistent herbicides (herbicides that don’t break down)
  • Japanese knotweed

Find out about disposing of hazardous plant waste.

Who to contact

Natural England

PO Box 2423

Email: cs.reading@naturalengland.org.uk

Telephone: 0300 060 1112

Environment Agency

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
S60 1BY


Telephone: 0370 850 6506