Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Invasive plant laws need handling with care

Alien plants such as Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed, or Himalayan Balsam are now bursting forth but tougher laws introduced this year mean landowners face stiffer penalties if they ignore these invaders.

Many farmers and landowners are aware of the need to control plants such as Ragwort, which can be dangerous to livestock, especially when it gets into hay stocks.

Horses, for instance, tend to recognise live ragwort as poisonous due to its bitter taste and will avoid it in fields if there is enough food from other sources. However, they have been known to eat it and in small quantities it seems to have no effect for some time but toxins are still likely to build up in the liver.

The build-up of toxins is what becomes so deadly. Ragwort has to be ingested to cause harm. Brushing against an animal’s skin will not lead to the poison being ingested but some people do have an allergic reaction to other chemicals in the plant – it should preferably be pulled before the seeds have set. It’s best to wear gloves when doing so.

Invasive plants such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam can do tremendous damage. There are plenty of anecdotal tales about Knotweed growing through solid concrete or tarmac and it is extremely hard to eliminate without specialist help because it spreads through underground rhizomes rather than seeds. Himalayan Balsam grows along waterways and causes real problems because it dies back every year, undermining bank foundations and causing them to collapse, while Giant Hogweed is highly toxic.

Home Office guidance on using new powers under “The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014: Reform of anti-social behaviour powers” explains that individuals, businesses, or organisations have a legal responsibility to prevent certain invasive non-native plants or injurious weeds on their premises spreading into the wild.


Nicola Banks
Surveyor, Carter Jonas Cambridge

A Community Protection Notice (CPN) can be used against individuals or organisations, with fines up to £20,000 for non compliance, who are acting unreasonably and who persistently or continually act in a way that has a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality. The Act does not explicitly refer to particular plants, as the new anti-social behaviour powers are intended to be flexible. However, frontline professionals can stop or prevent any behaviour that meets the legal test in the powers. 

Local councils and the police have power to issue notices for invasive non-native species placing restrictions on a person’s behaviour and, if necessary, forcing them to take steps to rectify the behaviour.

This means if an individual, or organisation, is not controlling invasive plants and could be reasonably expected to do so, the notice could be used after a mandatory written warning to get them to control the plants. Breach of any requirement of a CPN, without reasonable excuse, would be a criminal offence, subject to a fixed penalty notice for £100 or prosecution where an individual would be liable to a fine. For an organisation, such as a company, that could be up to £20,000.

It’s easy to see how failing to control invasive plants could have real consequences – and the plants would still need to be eradicated. Learning how to identify and control these plants is more-than-ever essential.”

Further guidance published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs setting out your legal responsibility for dealing with Japanese knotweed, other invasive plants and how to remove and dispose of them can be found here.

Details of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014: Reform of anti-social behaviour powers can be found here.

Specific details relating to invasive plant species legislation can be found here.