Invasive Plants, Weeds and the Homeowner

  • ragwort-invasive-weed
    Ragwort - An invasive weed in the UK

There has been a lot written recently about Japanese Knot weed and the damage it can cause to homeowners property but many people do not realise that there are several hundred invasive plants in the UK including Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam .

These plants are non-native to the United Kingdom  and you are forbidden from growing them under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Details of this Act can be found by reading the Guidance on section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

These plants have been brought in to the United Kingdom and can cause damage to both health and the economy.

A good list of plants that are on the list can be found in Schedule 9 Part 2 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981

It is a criminal offence to plant or cause to grow a non-native invasive species that is listed on Schedule 9 in the wild which carries penalties of up to £5,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment.

The key point top the above statement is in the wild, homeowners who discover an invasive species on their property should of course seek assistance in the best ways of controlling the plant to prevent spreading.

Injurious weeds are native species, which cause problems for farming. They are harmful to livestock and must not be allowed to spread to agricultural land.

The Weeds Act 1959 is an Act of Parliament in the UK which aims to control the spread of injurious types of weed, namely Broad Leaved Dock, Common Ragwort, Creeping Thistle, Curled Dock and Speared Thistle.

Broad Leaved Dock is a common plant found in the UK and can produce up to 60,000 seeds each year, flowering between June and October. The seeds may even survive in the soil for up to 50 years.

Curled Dock is found mainly in meadows, dunes, wasteland and dry soil, producing 3000 to 4000 seeds per year. It contains high levels of oxalic acid which can be dangerous to livestock.

Creeping Thistle is commonly found in grassland and grows up to a metre in height, flowering between July and September. It is very difficult to remove due to its large root system and often prevents the growth of other crops by releasing a natural biocide into the soil.

Spear Thistle is found in pastures and along roadsides and is easily spread by vehicles as they pass by. It can eliminate other crops.

Ragwort can grow up to a metre in height and can produce up to 150,000 seeds per plant. These seeds may survive up to 15 years in the soil. Ragwort is highly toxic to horses, cattle, goats, deer and pigs due to its high alkali concentration which can cause damage to the liver. Sheep are less affected, however, as the effect is cumulative, consumption could prove fatal in the long term.

The Weeds Act 1959 allows the Secretary of State for Environment, food and Rural Affairs to use measures to prevent the spread of these weeds on private land by means of enforcement. A notice may be served on the occupier of the land requiring him/her to take action to prevent these weeds from spreading within a specified time. The Act allows officials from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to enter the land to make an inspection to see whether the enforcement order has been complied with. If the occupier has not complied the Secretary of State may arrange for the weeds to be removed at the occupier’s expense.

As DEFRA does not have the resources to investigate all complaints, it may only investigate injurious weed complaints that fall into a high priority category. High priority is given to complaints where weeds are threatening land used for keeping livestock, land used for agricultural activities or to farmland used to produce conserved forage.

In cases where a complaint is made about the spread of injurious weeds to allotments or to private gardens, a high priority would not usually be given. The best solution in such cases is for the complainant to discuss the problem with the occupier of the land in question.