Harmful weeds, also known as injurious weeds, are native to the UK and contribute to biodiversity.

However some are poisonous to animals, or can damage crops if they spread.

These include: common ragwort, spear thistle, broad-leaved dock, curled dock and creeping field thistle.

You can have harmful weeds growing on your land, but you should stop them spreading on to agricultural land that’s used for grazing, to produce forage like silage and hay, and to grow crops.

You may have to pay back costs associated with clearing the weeds if you do not clear them yourself when Natural England asks you to.

The Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort

provides guidance on how to control ragwort. If you can show you have adopted the control measures which comply with the guidance, this can help you avoid fines under the Weeds Act 1959.

Control methods

If your land is a protected site, you may need permission before you use some control methods.

You can control weeds by using a combination of: spraying or wiping the plants with chemicals, pulling or digging out live, dead or dying plants, cutting back plants to prevent the seeds dispersing and burning plants using a spot burner.

You can also manage livestock so they do not overgraze and create bare areas where weeds can grow.

Dispose of harmful weeds to stop them spreading

You should not let seeds spread or put grazing animals at risk when you dispose of harmful weeds.

You can dispose of small quantities of weeds by letting it rot down on site. You should put it in a container with a lid, such as a rigid compost bin, to prevent seeds dispersing. You should use an on-site biomass facility or incinerator to dispose of larger quantities of weeds. You must have an environmental permit to do this.

If you burn or dispose of harmful weeds off site, you must use a registered waste carrier to remove waste. Make sure that waste is disposed of at an appropriate site - find out by checking with the site directly, asking your local authority or check the Environment Agency public register. If you use a site which is not permitted to dispose of waste, you could be fined or go to prison.

Prevent animals eating harmful weeds

Some harmful weeds are poisonous to animals if they eat them. Animals most at risk are horses, ponies and grazing livestock, such as cattle and sheep.

If you own horses, ponies or livestock you must not allow them to graze on land where you know ragwort is present. You can be prosecuted if you allow animals to suffer by eating harmful weeds.

More detail on control methods can be found