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Wildlife: Ragwort and injurious weeds

Weeds Act 1959

Under the Weeds Act 1959 the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds. The Weeds Act specifies five injurious weeds: Common Ragwort, Spear Thistle, Creeping of Field Thistle, Broad Leaved Dock and Curled Dock.

Defra works with individuals and a wide range of rural organisations to control the spread of these five weeds. Please note that neither Japanese knotweed nor giant hogweed are covered by the Weeds Act 1959. They are dealt with under the provisions of the Act 1981.


Common Ragwort (Senecio Jacobaea) is poisonous to horses and other livestock and can have potentially fatal consequences if ingested either in its green or dried state. Over 90% of complaints that Defra receives about injurious weeds concern ragwort.

In 2003 the British Horse Society sponsored a Private Member's Bill to amend the Weeds Act to provide for a code of practice to prevent the spread of ragwort. Government supported the Bill and the Ragwort Control Act came into force in February 2004. Defra worked with the British Horse Society and other stakeholders, including English Nature, Wildlife Trust, and ADAS to produce the code of practice, which was launched at the Royal Show in July 2004.

Further guidance was published in September 2005 on the options for disposing of ragwort. See below for further information including the text of the Act, the code of practice and the guidance on disposal.

Code of practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort

This code provides comprehensive guidance on how to develop a strategic approach to weed control. It gives advice on identification, priorities for control, control methods, environmental considerations and health and safety issues.

Printed copies of the code are available from Defra publications (please quote reference PB9840) and from any of the Natural England Offices listed below.

Guidance on the disposal options for common ragwort

Effective disposal of ragwort is a key factor in control. Cut and pulled flowering ragwort plants may still set seed and ragwort has a 70% seed germination rate. All parts of the ragwort plant remain toxic and harmful to animals when treated or wilted. This guidance has been produced to supplement the Code of practice and provide more detailed advice on the disposal options for common ragwort.

Printed copies of this guidance is available from Defra publications (please quote reference PB11050) and from any of the Natural England Offices listed below.

The Ragwort Control Act

The Ragwort Control Act amends the Weeds Act and will promote the more efficient control of common Ragwort. Common ragwort is the only one of the five weeds specified in the Weeds Act which poses a risk to animal health. If ingested by horses, ponies and other livestock, common ragwort causes cumulative liver damage and can have potentially fatal consequences. A copy of the Act is available at:

The Ragwort Control Act came into force on 20 February 2004 and enables the Secretary of State to make a Code of practice to prevent the spread of ragwort (see above). The Act is a priced publication and is available to purchase from The Stationery Office,

Control of injurious weeds publications

The following publications are available from any of the Natural England Offices listed below to help with the identification, prevention and control of injurious weeds. They can also be obtained from Defra Publications.

The following codes of practice are also relevant:

A complaint form (WEED 2) and Explanatory Note (WEED 2A) are available if you wish to complain about an infestation of injurious weeds as specified in the Weeds Act 1959.

The complaint form is also available from the Natural England offices listed below. Please note that completed complaint forms should be returned to the appropriate Natural England office for your area, as follows.

Reading Office

Natural England,
Room 121, Block A,
Government Buildings, Coley Park,
Reading RG1 6DT,
Telephone: 0300 060 4994/4995

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, Kent, London, Oxfordshire, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Surrey, West Sussex, Wiltshire

Cambridge Office

Natural England
Zone A, Eastbrook,
Shaftesbury Road,
Cambridge CB2 8DR
Telephone: 01233 533588

Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk

Worcester Office

Natural England
Room 1102,
Block B, Government Buildings,
Worcester WR5 2LQ
Telephone: 0300 060 1278/1631

Cheshire, Derbyshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Worcestershire.

Leeds Office

Natural England
Wing 17, Government Buildings,
Otley Road, Lawnswood
Leeds LS16 5QT
Telephone: 0300 060 4180

Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, Humberside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Yorkshire

Page last modified: 2 August 2010
Page published: 1 July 2006

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