Natural England - Injurious weeds and invasive plants

Injurious weeds and invasive plants

Advice and legislation relating to the reporting and control of injurious weeds and invasive plants.

Legal status

Injurious weeds - five weeds are classified under the Weeds Act 1959: common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare), creeping or field thistle (Cirsium arvense), broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) and curled dock (Rumex Crispus). It is not an offence to have these weeds growing on your land and species such as ragwort have significant conservation benefits. However they must not be allowed to spread to agricultural land, particularly grazing areas or land which is used to produce conserved forage. Enforcement notices can be issued following complaints requiring landowners to take action to prevent the spread of these weeds.

Invasive plants - Please note that we are not able to follow up complaints about weeds not covered by the Weeds Act such as Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam. It is an offence under section 14(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 to "plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild" any plant listed in Schedule nine, Part II to the Act. This includes Japanese knotweed. It is not an offence to simply have it growing in your garden or on your land and there is no specific legal requirement to control it if it is (unless doing so forms part of a legally binding contract or agreement with another party).

Advice and leaflets - resolving problems?

There are a range of advisory leaflets on these issues produced by Natural England and by Defra which can be downloaded below: 

If you require further advice contact us. If you require more detailed information regarding the legislation and policy for non native species such as Japanese knotweed, you can call the Wildlife Species Conservation Division of Defra on 0117 372 6154.

Please note that neither Defra nor Natural England offer a technical advice service for injurious weeds or invasive plants. Natural England only administer a complaints procedure under the Weeds Act 1959 and are not qualified to give advice with regards to the treatment of weeds. For those weeds which are covered by the Weeds Act 1959 and certain non-native species such as Japanese knotweed, we can send you written literature which contains treatment guidance. If you require more detail specialised private companies may provide further advice. We cannot recommend specific contractors, but you may like to contact the National Association of Agricultural Contractorsexternal link who have a list of approved contractors on 01733 362920.

You may also find the Defra pages on injurious weedsexternal link helpful.

How to make a complaint under the Weeds Act 1959

You can contact us: (42kb)pdf document for advice, however complaints will only be taken forward once a fully completed form is received. Check the criteria for making a complaint and the information that we require using the weeds complaint validation checklist: (190kb)pdf document.

Natural England's role is generally only to resolve weeds complaints in 'last resort' cases where an agreement cannot be reached without our intervention. It is expected that the complainant will have already contacted the landowner to try and resolve the problem before contacting us. Due to limited resources within Natural England, priority is given to cases where weeds are threatening land used for keeping or grazing horses and other livestock, or farmland used to produce conserved forage or other agricultural activities. Complaints about weeds spreading to private gardens or allotments are not normally investigated.

Natural England cannot take complaints forward which relate to livestock grazing in a field infested with ragwort if there is no risk of spread to adjacent agricultural land, because the Weeds Act does not apply to these circumstances. We are fully aware of the dangers of ragwort to livestock, owners are ultimately responsible for the welfare of their animals and should ensure that livestock are not exposed to the risk of ragwort poisoning. Please note that under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it is an offence to keep an animal in such a way that suffering will be an inevitable consequence. Owners can be prosecuted for keeping animals on land where harmful weeds or plants are growing and there is a risk of ingestion. Where there are demonstrable animal welfare violations, complaints should be directed to the local authorityexternal link, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agencyexternal link or the RSPCAexternal link (the police will only become involved in cases involving very serious offences or issues of public order).

Complaint form and guidance: