Weed control for farmers
This guidance was withdrawn on
Replaced by newer guidance relating to plants on Wildlife and habitat conservation.
Controlling weeds on farms by maintaining the agricultural and environmental conditions of cross compliance.
There are significant environmental benefits to having a wide variety of flora and fauna on farms. However, there are numerous weeds that can reduce crop yield and affect crop quality and others which are poisonous to grazing livestock. A range of invasive alien weed species also produce problems by dominating and destroying local habitats.
This guide provides information on how you can control weeds on your farm under the good agricultural and environmental conditions of cross compliance and information on what to do if herbicide resistance occurs. It also provides details on injurious and invasive weed control and shows where to get specialist advice, further information and guidance on weed control topics.
Weed control and cross compliance
To qualify for full payment under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) and other direct payments - eg the Environmental Stewardship schemes - you must meet all relevant cross compliance requirements. These requirements are split into two types:
- Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs)
- requirements to keep your land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAECs)
Under cross compliance, GAEC 11 - Control of Weeds - aims to control the spread of weeds that can damage habitats and agricultural land.
GAEC 11 requires you to take all reasonable steps to prevent injurious and invasive weeds as set out in the Weeds Act 1959 from spreading on your own and onto adjoining land.
The injurious weeds are:
- common ragwort
- creeping or field thistle
- spear thistle
- curled and broad-leaved dock
The invasive weeds are:
- Japanese knotweed
- giant hogweed
- Himalayan balsam
Using herbicides to control weeds
If you’re planning to use herbicides, make sure you target just the weed and not other more valuable species. Ideally, you should take advice from a BASIS-registered agronomist, who will be able to guide you on the most effective form of weed control.
Controlling weeds in the hedgerow and watercourse protection zone
GAEC 14 requires that you protect sensitive field boundaries and their associated habitats if you have hedgerows or watercourses on or adjoining your land. In such scenarios, you are not permitted to cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides to land:
- within two metres of the centre of a hedgerow, watercourse or field ditch
- within one metre of the top of the bank of a watercourse or field ditch
However, you will not be in breach of the above requirements if you use pesticides for spot application only so that you can meet GAEC 11 or cultivate land to establish a green cover where one does not exist and the land is either:
- part of a field which is being newly created, whether by merger or division
- previously outside the scope of cross compliance and on which you wish to establish a green cover
With certain exceptions, you must take all reasonable steps to maintain a green cover on land within two metres of the centre of a hedgerow, watercourse or field ditch, or within one metre of the top of the bank of a watercourse or field ditch.
Where there are particular problems with pernicious weeds or for other agronomic or environmental reasons, you may apply to the RPA for an exemption. You can contact the RPA Customer Service Centre on 0845 603 7777.
Controlling agricultural weeds
There are various ways to tackle weed problems by using cultural control practices, such as:
- ploughing and other cultivations
- mechanical weeding
- cutting, spudding and pulling
- grazing management in grassland
- crop rotation
Organic farming methods are a clear change of cultural practices. For more information, see the guide on converting to organic farming.
Changing your cultural practices can provide an effective method of weed control in itself and prove particulary effective when combined with an appropriate herbicide strategy. Cultivations are also an integral part of many programmes to deal with herbicide resistance.
Using chemical herbicides to control weeds
There are a large number of herbicides available to control weeds in crops, amenity areas and non-cropped land. The choice of herbicide will depend on many factors including safety, efficacy, cost, storage and application method. A BASIS-qualified advisor can advise you on all these aspects.
BASIS is the pesticide industry’s self-regulatory scheme.
You can call the BASIS (Registration) Limited Enquiry Line on 01335 343 945, or find out about BASIS on the BASIS website.
You can get advice from the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD), formerly the Pesticides Safety Directorate, and the Pesticides Forum on issues such as:
- crop rotations
- sowing dates
- wildlife and water protection
- equipment loading and cleaning
Managing weeds that have become herbicide-resistant
Some weed species, particularly grass weeds (eg blackgrass), which infest cereal crops, have become resistant to herbicides that were designed to kill them. This herbicide resistance is a major problem in some arable crops - as it can increase production costs, limit the choice of herbicides, cultivations and rotations.
Weeds are relatively immobile compared to most pests and diseases, so your management decisions and farm practices can prevent and manage resistance. It is within your control to prevent resistance increasing in fields where there’s already a problem, or keep fields that are not badly affected free of resistance. The solution is to understand what practices pose the highest risk on your farm, and act to change them.
You can carry out a simple herbicide resistance audit on your farm. Download CRD herbicide-resistant grassweeds guidance from the ADLib website (PDF, 146K).
For advice on how to manage resistance in common cereal weeds, view the HGCA’s managing and preventing herbicide resistance in weeds guidance on the ADLib website.
You can order the following publications from the HGCA website:
- managing and preventing herbicide resistance in weeds (Ref G10)
- herbicide-resistant black-grass: managing risk with fewer options (Ref IS03)
You can also get advice from the Home-Grown Cereals Authority Enquiry Line on 020 7520 3920 or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are five injurious weeds listed under the Weeds Act 1959. These are:
- common ragwort
- spear thistle
- creeping or field thistle
- broad-leaved dock
- curled dock
Identifying injurious weeds
You can also order guidance from the Defra Publications Helpline on 08459 556 000.
It is not an offence in itself to have these injurious weeds growing on your land - in fact they can all have significant conservation benefits. However, you are responsible for controlling them and preventing them from spreading to neighbouring agricultural land and to any other land used for grazing livestock or making forage, within a certain distance of the infesting site.
If you wish to complain about an infestation of injurious weeds, you should contact Natural England. You can find Natural England contact details on the Natural England website.
By adopting good land management practices, you can prevent infestations in the first place, which is far preferable to having to control and dispose of them.
Common ragwort accounts for over 90% of complaints about injurious weeds. It thrives on poorly managed grassland, wasteland and road verges, and can spread from these locations to neighbouring land.
Common ragwort is the most troublesome injurious weed as it is toxic to livestock in its green, wilted or dried state (eg hay) and it may prove fatal if ingested in sufficient quantities. Cut and pulled flowering ragwort plants may still set seed.
How to control and dispose of common ragwort
Defra’s guidance on how to prevent the spread of ragwort includes advice on identification, priorities for control, control methods, environmental considerations and health and safety issues.
You can download the Defra code of practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort from the ADLib website (PDF, 628KB). You can also order the guide from Defra Publications on 08459 556 000.
Invasive non-native plants
There are some - mainly non-native - plants which are regarded as invasive. They can threaten native species and their habitats, and seriously damage economic interests - such as forestry, agriculture and fisheries.
Some of the most widespread and problematic species of invasive non-native plants are:
- Japanese knotweed
- giant hogweed
- Himalayan balsam - a particular problem for river bank erosion
- New Zealand pigmyweed
It is not an offence to have these plants growing on your land or in your garden, and you are not required by law to control them. However, it is an offence to plant them in the wild or cause them to grow there, and you must report invasive plants.
You can read more information on invasive, non-native plants in the guide on wild plants.
Stopping invasive non-native plants getting into the countryside
Good husbandry is the best defence against invasive plants. By adopting good land management practices, you can prevent infestations in the first place, which is far preferable to having to control and dispose of them.
- know what you are buying and growing
- avoid invasive plants and try to use native local plants
- control invasive non-native plants safely
- take advice on the best techniques
- dispose of plant waste responsibly
- never fly-tip in the countryside
- be sure you know the law
- beware of hitch-hiking pests on plants and in their soil if you are importing or buying plants from abroad
- avoid recommending invasive plants
For guidance on non-native invasive species, contact Natural England. Find Natural England office contact details on the Natural England website.
Where to get specialist weed control advice
There are various bodies of crop consultants and agronomists that can provide specialist advice on weed control.
ADAS is the UK’s largest independent provider of environmental consultancy, rural development services and policy advice. With experts in every aspect of agricultural and horticultural production, ADAS can provide a range of research, consultancy and knowledge transfer services in the management of weeds. These services include:
- herbicide resistance
- research and strategic consultancy
- weed seed dormancy testing
For ADAS help and guidance you can call the ADAS Helpline on 0845 766 0085.
BASIS is the pesticide industry’s self-regulatory scheme. BASIS (Registration) Limited is an independent registration, standards and certification scheme serving the pesticide, fertiliser and allied organisations and interests. Almost every company that distributes pesticides is registered with BASIS. BASIS also provides training and specialist advice, including on the use of chemical herbicides to control weeds.
For BASIS guidance you can call the BASIS (Registration) Limited Enquiry Line on 01335 343 945. Additionally, you can find information about BASIS on the BASIS website.
NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) TAG is the country’s largest independent agronomy, crop research and consultancy organisation. Funded predominantly by farmer subscriptions, NIAB TAG has a comprehensive trials base and over twenty centres across the country, located in the main arable areas. It offers high quality, independent information.
You can call the NIAB Helpline on 01223 342 200. Additionally, you can find out about NIAB TAG’s services on the NIAB website.
Agrivice is an agricultural consultancy business offering independent agronomy advice both technical and commercial.
For more help and guidance, you can call Agrivice Helpline on 01986 781 774. Additionally, you can find agricultural information on a wide range of technical issues on the Agrivice website.
Related organisations dealing with weed control
You can get help and advice on controlling weeds from a whole range of organisations.
The Environment Agency plays a central role in delivering the government’s environmental priorities. Its principal aims are to protect and improve the environment, and to promote sustainable development.
Find wildlife habitats and other agricultural guidance on the Environment Agency website. Additionally, you can call the Environment Agency Helpline on 03708 506 506 and the special Environment Agency - Water Pollution Hotline on 0800 80 70 60.
One of the major roles of Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. It also administers the Whole Farm Approach, which offers a faster, more efficient way for farmers and growers to meet regulatory requirements. Defra oversees a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.
Natural England is responsible for reducing the decline of biodiversity and licensing of protected species across England. You can call the Natural England Enquiry Service on 0845 600 3078.
The RPA is responsible for licences and schemes for growers as well as for running the SPS. For more information about SPS and how the RPA can help your farming business, you can call the RPA Helpline on 0845 603 7777. You can also read the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on 0845 345 1302. Alternatively, find information on cross compliance requirements on the Cross Compliance website, or read the guides on:
- cross compliance: the basics
- Statutory Management Requirements (SMR)
- standards of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC)
- the Single Payment Scheme (SPS)
The National Farmers Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities. Call the NFU Callfirst Helpline on 0870 845 8458, or find out about the work of the NFU on their website.
The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), incorporates:
- the Plant Health Division, which includes bee health
- the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate
- the Plant Variety Rights Office and Seeds Division
- the Central Science Laboratory
The main purposes of Fera are to support and develop a sustainable food chain and a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks. Through science and research, Fera is also responsible for policy and regulations on food and drink, wildlife, plant, bee and seed health, and the environment.
You can call the Fera Helpline on 01904 462 000, or find out about Fera’s work on the Fera website.
Farmers are likely to come into contact with local authorities over a number of farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.
Environment Agency Helpline
03708 506 506
The Arable Group (TAG) Helpline
01285 652 184
01223 342 200
Chemicals Regulation Directorate Helpline
01904 455 775
Natural England Enquiry Service
0845 600 3078
BASIS (Registration) Limited Enquiry Line
01335 343 945
Home-Grown Cereals Authority Enquiry Line
020 7520 3920
RPA Customer Service Centre
0845 603 7777
08459 33 55 77
01986 781 774
01904 462 000
Cross Compliance Helpline
0845 345 1302
0845 766 0085