HC Deb 27 October 1999 vol 336 c923W
Mr. Bob Russell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to counteract ragwort infestation. [95317]

Mr. Morley

MAFF has policy responsibility for control of injurious weeds, of which ragwort is one, under the Weeds Act 1959. Under its provisions, MAFF may investigate complaints from any occupiers of agricultural land who consider that their land is threatened by ragwort spreading from land nearby. It seeks to resolve disputes between neighbours about control of injurious weeds primarily through persuasion and good advice.

However, where such approaches are ineffective, the Weeds Act empowers MAFF to give occupiers of land formal written notice requiring them to take control measures. If they fail to do so MAFF may enter onto the land with an accompanying agricultural contractor, carry out the controls, and then recover the costs of the work, as a debt due to the Department.

In the case of any persistent offenders, MAFF will continue to give careful consideration to bringing a prosecution under the Act. However, past experience has been that use of the powers of entry and recovery of reasonable costs incurred in taking direct weeds control action is sufficiently effective.

There has been some doubt about the policy for enforcement of the Weeds Act where land is used to graze horses and is threatened by ragwort growing nearby. Each complaint about injurious weeds will be dealt with on its own merits. However, MAFF has policy responsibility for farmland and for farmed animals, rather than animals kept for non-agricultural businesses or for recreation. MAFF will not normally investigate complaints about weeds threatening land used for horses, ponies or donkeys. Higher priority will be given to protecting farm livestock.

MAFF supported the Country Landowners Association national awareness campaign to help eradicate ragwort, which came to an end during August. That campaign helped horse owners understand what they can do to protect their own animals, as well as their neighbours' from this poisonous weed.

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