The law relating to Ragwort in fields with horses

What is Ragwort and why is it a problem?

Ragwort is a weed which contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to animals, in particular horses. If Ragwort is eaten in sufficient quantities it can lead to health problems in horses.

There are different types of Ragwort. The most common type found in England and Wales is known as “Common Ragwort”. The Latin name for Common Ragwort is “sensecio jacobaea”.

What is the law relating to Ragwort?

The law relating to Ragwort is contained in the Weeds Act 1959 and the Ragwort Control Act 2003.

What powers does the Weeds Act 1959 give to the Secretary of State in relation to Ragwort?

Power to require an occupier to prevent the spreading of injurious weeds

The Weeds Act 1959 gives the Secretary of State the power to serve upon the occupier of land, where Ragwort (sensecio jacobaea) is growing, a written notice requiring the occupier of the land to take such action as may be necessary to prevent the Ragwort from spreading, within the time specified in the notice.

Where such a notice has been served and the occupier of the land unreasonably fails to comply with the requirements of the notice, the occupier commits a criminal offence and can be fined.

If, after fourteen days of the conviction, the occupier has still not complied with the requirements of the notice, the occupier commits a further criminal offence and can receive a further fine.

Powers of the Secretary of State where a notice has not been complied with

Where a notice has been served on the occupier of land and the occupier has not taken the action required by the notice within the time specified in the notice, the Secretary of State has the power to take the action required.

Where action is taken by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State is entitled to recover his reasonable costs of taking the action from the occupier of the land. If it is not reasonably practicable, after making reasonable enquiries to ascertain the name or address of the occupier and the occupier is not the owner of the land, such costs can be recovered from the owner of the land.

If, having made reasonable enquiries, the Secretary of State is unable to ascertain the name or address of the owner of the land he has the power to apply to the County Court or the High Court (depending on the amount he seeks to recover) for an order imposing on the land a charge (known as a “local land charge”) for securing the payment of the sum claimed.

Where the owner of land has been required to pay a sum due to the default of the occupier, he is entitled to recover the amount of his loss from the occupier.

Powers of entry

The Secretary of State has the power to authorise a person or a local authority, to enter on and inspect any land, for the purpose of carrying out his powers under the Weeds Act 1959. The notice should state the date on which the inspection is to take place and should be served on the occupier of the land.

It is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine, to prevent or obstruct the entry of any such person so authorised.

What powers does the Ragwort Control Act give to the Secretary of State?

The Ragwort Control Act 2003 gives the Secretary of State the power to make a code of practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to prevent the spread of Ragwort (senecio jacobaea).

Any codes of practice made are admissible as evidence in Court proceedings. If any code of practice appears to a Court to be relevant to any question arising in the proceedings the Court is required to take the code of practice into account in determining that question.

Have any codes of practice been published?

With the Secretary of State’s authority, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has published a code of practice entitled “Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort”.

The Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort gives advice on the identification of Ragwort, risk assessment and priorities for Ragwort control, control methods, environmental considerations and health and safety issues.

The Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort does not seek to eradicate Ragwort, but seeks to control it where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals, particularly horses as their digestive system makes them particularly vulnerable.

The Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort is supplemented by further guidance published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the disposal of Ragwort entitled “Guidance on the disposal options for common ragwort”.