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 eaten in sufficient quantities.
There are different types of Ragwort. The most widespread type found in England and Wales is known as ‘Common Ragwort’ (sensecio jacobaea).
What is the law relating to Ragwort?
Under the Weeds Act 1959 (WA 1959), Ragwort is classified as an ‘injurious weed’. If Ragwort is growing on land that you occupy, the Secretary of State has the power under the Act to serve a written notice on you requiring you to take such action as may be necessary to prevent the Ragwort from spreading, within the time specified in the notice.
Failure to comply with notice
If you are served with such a notice and you unreasonably fail to comply with its requirements, you commit a criminal offence and can be fined.
If, 14 days after the conviction, you still have not complied with the requirements of the notice, you commit a further criminal offence and can receive a further fine.
Where a notice has been served and you have 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, s/he is entitled to recover from you the reasonable costs of taking the action. 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 s/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, s/he is entitled to recover the amount of his/her 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/her powers under WA 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.
Ragwort Control Act 2003
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.
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.
Government guidance on how to control and dispose of Common Ragwort is available here.