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Jill Headford

Posted 3 October 2012
by Jill Headford

Land owners beware…

Do you know what these plants are? Do you think they are just pretty flowers?               Think again.  This is Common Ragwort and it is poisonous to horses and other livestock. Ragwort is native to the British Isles.  It contains toxins which, when ingested by livestock, can cause liver damage and eventually death.  While Ragwort is important to other wildlife and a natural component of grassland, it is necessary to prevent its spread where it poses a risk to grazing animals or where there is a risk of it entering the food chain. There are many types of Ragwort and as a land owner or occupier you should get to know your enemy, Common Ragwort, so you can identify it and then remove it from your land.  DEFRA provides guidance on this: http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb9840-cop-ragwort.pdf ‘But I don’t have any livestock grazing on my land’ I hear you say, ‘it’s not my problem’. Think again.  Do you own or occupy land near where animals graze?  Then you have a responsibility to control this killer plant and to prevent it spreading.  Even on derelict or waste land you should still be vigilant for the presence of Ragwort (it is particularly fond of dry patches of turf and disturbed soil). Even if no livestock uses your land, you must still take action to prevent the spread of Ragwort if there are grazing animals within 100m of your boundaries or if fields within 100m are used to produce hay or other dry feed (Ragwort is still poisonous even once it has been cut, pulled up or dried). Remember that responsibility for controlling this injurious weed rests with the occupier of the land so you are not off the hook just because you don’t own it – although owners, occupiers and managers of the land will all be expected to co-operate to prevent Ragwort spreading. This weed is so dangerous to livestock that there have been laws made to control its spread – The Weeds Act 1959 and the Control of Ragwort Act 2003.  Under these laws, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) can serve a notice on you to prevent the spread of this toxic plant and if you fail to comply you will be committing an offence.  Natural England also have the power to investigate complaints where there is a risk that this plant could spread from your land to neighbouring land, and priority will be given where livestock graze or where feed is produced and enforcement action can be taken. You may think that animals would not voluntarily eat something poisonous but you cannot rely on this assumption.  So what should you do if you find Ragwort growing on your land? Firstly you need to establish how high the risk is.  If you find any plants flowering within 50m of grazing/feed production land then you should take immediate action as this is a high risk situation.  This applies irrespective of how many individual plants there are, what matters is the likelihood of it spreading to nearby land.  The DEFRA website provides guidance on how to tackle and safely dispose of this dangerous weed: http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb11050-ragwort-dispose-110315.pdf If you find plants within 50m to 100m of grazing/feed production land then you have a medium risk situation and you should be aware that this can change into a high risk situation very easily.  You should monitor the plants and follow DEFRA guidance as above. A low risk situation is where you find Ragwort further than 100m from grazing/feed production land.  This does not require any immediate action, although you should keep an eye on it to avoid any suggestions by livestock owners that you are not managing the situation. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on your land as livestock owners are well aware of the dangers of Ragwort and if concerned are perfectly entitled to report any uncontrolled weeds to DEFRA/Natural England.  Although livestock owners are responsible for the welfare of their animals, your land is your responsibility. For advice contact Jill Headford on 01392 207020 or email j.headford@tozers.co.uk

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About the author

Jill Headford

Jill Headford

Partner

A partner in the firm since 1994 and an experienced Court and Tribunal advocate, Jill specialises in resolving disputes and is a member of the Property Litigation Association