How to stop harmful weeds spreading onto land used for grazing livestock or growing crops, how to dispose of them and how to report them if they’ve spread.
Applies to England
Harmful weeds, also known as injurious weeds, are native to the UK and contribute to biodiversity.
Some harmful weeds are poisonous to animals, or can damage crops if they spread.
Harmful weeds are:
- common ragwort
- spear thistle
- broad-leaved dock
- curled dock
- creeping field thistle
Find out how to identify these harmful weeds.
Stop harmful weeds spreading to agricultural land
You can have harmful weeds growing on your land, but you should stop them spreading on to agricultural land that’s used:
- for grazing
- to produce forage, like silage and hay
- to grow crops
You may have to pay back costs associated with clearing the weeds if you do not clear them yourself when Natural England asks you to.
Prevent ragwort spreading
Read the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort to understand how to control ragwort. If you can show you have adopted control measures which comply with the guidance in the code of practice, this can help you avoid fines under the Weeds Act 1959.
Control harmful weeds
You should control harmful weeds on your land so they do not spread to agricultural land.
If your land is a protected site, you may need permission before you use some control methods.
Find out how to spray plants with chemicals in the Stop invasive non-native plants from spreading guide if you want to control weeds with herbicides.
You can control weeds by using a combination of:
- spraying or wiping the plants with chemicals
- pulling or digging out live, dead or dying plants
- cutting back plants to prevent the seeds dispersing
- burning plants using a spot burner
- managing livestock so they do not overgraze and create bare areas where weeds can grow
Dispose of harmful weeds to stop them spreading
You should not let seeds spread or put grazing animals at risk when you dispose of harmful weeds.
On-site disposal of harmful weeds
You can dispose of small quantities of weeds by letting it rot down on site. You should put it in a container with a lid, such as a rigid compost bin, to prevent seeds dispersing.
You should use an on-site biomass facility or incinerator to dispose of larger quantities of weeds. You must have an environmental permit to do this.
Off-site disposal of harmful weeds
If you burn or dispose of harmful weeds off site, you must:
- use a registered waste carrier to remove waste
- make sure that waste is disposed of at an appropriate site – find out by checking with the site directly, asking your local authority or check the Environment Agency public register
If you use a site which is not permitted to dispose of waste, you could be fined or go to prison.
Prevent animals eating harmful weeds
Some harmful weeds are poisonous to animals if they eat them.
Animals most at risk are:
- grazing livestock, such as cattle and sheep
If you own horses, ponies or livestock you must not allow them to graze on land where you know ragwort is present.
You can be prosecuted if you allow animals to suffer by eating harmful weeds.
Report welfare concerns
If you’re a member of the public and you see harmful weeds growing where horses, ponies or livestock are grazing, you can report this to the:
- Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
- British Horse Society (BHS)
Report harmful weeds
You can ask Natural England to act where harmful weeds:
- have spread to agricultural land
- are considered to be at high risk of spreading – this usually means they’re growing within 50 metres of agricultural land
When Natural England will not take action
Natural England will usually not take action if weeds:
- have spread on to other types of land, such as private gardens or allotments
- are growing more than 100 metres from agricultural land – the risk of these weeds spreading is considered to be low
Natural England will not take action in cases where there are concerns about animal welfare.
Before you contact Natural England, you should ask the responsible landowner to remove the weeds – you’ll usually need to show you’ve made reasonable efforts to do this before it will take your case further.
Natural England Enquiries Team
County Hall, Spetchley Road
What Natural England will do
Natural England will aim to reply to your complaint within 10 working days and tell you what action it plans to take.
Weeds considered high risk
If the complaint is valid and the weeds are considered high risk, Natural England will write to the landowner to ask them to remove the weeds.
Natural England will write to you advising that the landowner has been contacted and will ask you to get in touch if the landowner does not clear the weeds.
You should do this within 2 weeks of the date given in the letter, otherwise Natural England will assume that you are content with the action taken.
Weeds considered low risk
If weeds are considered low risk, Natural England will not usually take action straight away but will ask you to:
- continue to monitor the spread of the weeds
- contact an adviser again within 12 months if you think the risk of weeds spreading is increasing
Natural England will not usually take action on complaints they receive at the end of the growing season – this is usually after October. It will reopen these cases the following spring.
Action landowners must take
Natural England will write to the landowner to tell them it has received a complaint. Landowners are usually asked to clear the weeds within 28 days from the date of the letter.
During June, July, August and September landowners will be asked to clear the weeds within 14 days.
If horses or livestock are present on the infested land, Natural England may reduce this time to 7 days.
Natural England will explain in the letter the deadline by which the landowner or occupier must clear weeds from their land.
When no action is taken
If the landowner or occupier says they have cleared the weeds and the complainant does not object, Natural England will take no action.
The complainant can inform Natural England if the landowner or occupier has not cleared the weeds. In these cases, Natural England will inspect the land.