Weed Control - UK Legislation

UK Legislation

The Weeds Act, 1959 is described as "Preventing the spread of harmful or injurious weeds", and is mainly relevant to farmers and other rural settings rather than the allotment or garden-scale grower. There are five ‘injurious’ (that is, likely to be harmful to agricultural production) weeds covered by the provisions of the Weeds Act. These are:

  • Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
  • Creeping or field thistle (Cirsium arvense)
  • Curled Dock (Rumex crispus)
  • Broad leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius)
  • Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) (n.b., this weed is poisonous to livestock. Livestock should not be allowed to graze where ragwort has grown until it is eradicated, and any traces have disintegrated. Ragwort should not be allowed to be harvested in hay or silage for feed).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) provides guidance for the treatment removal of these weeds from infested land. Much of this is oriented towards the use of herbicides, the majority of which may not be acceptable to the organic producer (apart from non-synthetic substances like sulphur, which in some circumstances are accepted within Soil Association standards) but in most cases there are manual techniques that can be used such as digging out the roots, mulching out or carefully timed cutting before seeds are able to spread.

Primary responsibility for weeds control rests with the occupier of the land on which the weeds are growing, therefore it is important to be alert to potential weed problems and to take prompt action. However, it should be remembered that most common farmland weeds are not "injurious" within the meaning of the Weeds Act, and many such plant species have conservation and environmental value. When dealing with complaints under the Weeds Act, DEFRA has a duty in law to try to achieve a reasonable balance among different interests. These include agriculture, countryside conservation and the public in general. Constructive discussion about problems caused by weeds can often result in effective solutions and avoid the need for DEFRA to take official action. In addition to those weeds covered by the 1959 act, under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it can be an offence to plant or grow certain specified plants in the wild (see Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), including Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. Problems involving these plants can be referred to the local authority for the area where those weeds are growing as some local authorities have bye-laws controlling these plants. There is no statutory requirement for landowners to remove these plants from their property.

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