Guidance

Weed control for farmers

Controlling weeds on farms by maintaining the agricultural and environmental conditions of cross compliance.

This guidance was withdrawn on

Replaced by newer guidance relating to plants on Wildlife and habitat conservation.

Introduction

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
  • rhododendron

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.

You can find information on when GAEC 14 does not apply on the RPA website.

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.

Find information on exemptions from cross compliance requirements on the RPA website.

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

Access the code of practice for using plant protection products on the CRD website.

Download a Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) guide to pesticides and integrated farm management from the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website (PDF, 195K).

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.

Download advice about dealing with herbicide-resistant wild oats from the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) website (PDF, 1.12MB).

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 publications@hgca.com.

Injurious weeds

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 download identification of injurious weeds guidance from the ADLib website (PDF, 969KB).

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.

Download Defra guidance on preventing the spread of harmful weeds from the ADLib website (PDF, 74KB).

Common ragwort

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.

Download Defra guidance on the disposal options for common ragwort from the ADLib website (PDF, 383KB).

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
  • rhododendron
  • New Zealand pigmyweed
  • laurel
  • snowberry
  • buddleia

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.

You should:

  • 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.

You can also download a Defra horticultural code of practice from the ADLib website (PDF, 98KB).

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
  • biodiversity
  • weed seed dormancy testing

For ADAS help and guidance you can call the ADAS Helpline on 0845 766 0085.

Find out about ADAS weed management services on the ADAS website.

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.

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:

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.

Further information

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

The Arable Group (TAG) Helpline

01285 652 184

NIAB Helpline

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

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Agrivice Helpline

01986 781 774

Fera Helpline

01904 462 000

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

ADAS Helpline

0845 766 0085

ADAS weed management services information on the ADAS website

BASIS registration, standards and certification scheme information on the BASIS website

Independent agronomic advice on the NIAB website

Key dates for GAEC activities on the RPA website

The code of practice for using plant protection products on the CRD website

Download Defra’s pesticides and integrated farm management guide from the ADLib website (PDF, 195K)

Download CRD herbicide-resistant grassweeds guidance from the ADLib website (PDF, 146K)

HGCA’s managing herbicide resistance in common cereal weeds advice on the ADLib website

Herbicide-resistant wild oats explained on the HGCA website

Download Defra guidance on preventing the spread of harmful weeds from the ADLib website (PDF, 74K)

Download a Defra code of practice on preventing the spread of ragwort from the ADLib website (PDF, 628K)

Download Defra disposal options for common ragwort guidance from the ADLib website (PDF, 383K)

Download identification of injurious weeds guidance from the ADLib website (PDF, 969K)

Ragwort guidance on the British Horse Society website

Natural England contact details on the Natural England website

Download a Defra horticultural code of practice from the ADLib website (PDF, 98K)

UK crop consultants listed on the FreeIndex website

Agricultural information on a wide range of technical issues on the Agrivice website

Wildlife habitats and other agricultural guidance on the Environment Agency website

Cross compliance information on the Cross Compliance website

NFU general information on the NFU website

Fera’s work described on the Fera website

Published 11 September 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Fixing references to specialist guides
  2. First published.