Petition Repeal the archaic Weeds Act 1959 to benefit pollinators and wider biodiversity.

This Act drives destruction of native wildflower species so essential to the survival of pollinators & other wildlife. Plants targeted by the Act include common & creeping thistle - both rich sources of nectar, ragwort with its 177 pollinators & dock an important food plant for many insects.

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Invertebrate populations are undergoing catastrophic declines within the UK - with pollinators amongst the hardest hit. The Weeds Act 1959 was devised when agriculture was less sophisticated than it is today and there was little scientific justification even then for the five native wildflowers it targeted. Despite all the changes in modern farming practices, which have rendered obsolete its original justification, the Weeds Act still drives the over-tidiness & sterility of our rural landscapes.

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Government responded

This response was given on 17 October 2019

The Government has no plans to repeal the Weeds Act 1959 at this time. The Weeds Act 1959 does not seek to eliminate or eradicate the five injurious weeds named in that Act.

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The Weeds Act 1959 extends and applies to England, Scotland and Wales. It does not extend to Northern Ireland. The subject area of the Act is devolved in relation to Scotland and Wales, and those devolved administrations will have their own approach to injurious weeds under the framework of the Act.

The Government appreciates that many people hold strong, and often opposing, views on injurious weeds and injurious weeds policy. Defra’s injurious weeds policy aims to balance a variety of different interests in the countryside. The Government is conscious of the important biodiversity contribution of injurious weeds. For example, ragwort alone is thought to host some 129 species of invertebrates and 14 species of fungi. As such, the Weeds Act 1959 does not seek to eliminate or eradicate injurious weeds from the countryside.

The Act is in place to prevent the spread of these weeds where they could constitute a risk to grazing livestock or land used for agricultural purposes (e.g. forage production). This is because injurious weeds may be harmful if eaten by grazing animals, including livestock, horses, ponies and donkeys, or can be detrimental to agricultural production.

Whilst responsibility for weed control rests primarily with the occupier of the land on which the weeds are growing, the Weeds Act 1959 allows the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take action to control the spread of the five injurious weeds. The Secretary of State’s functions under the Act have been delegated to Natural England. This means that it is Natural England which is responsible for investigating complaints on injurious weeds and, if necessary, taking steps to ensure that they are cleared.

Further information on injurious weeds can be found on the GOV.UK website. Guidance on ragwort specifically can be found in the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort.

Given the need to carefully balance the biodiversity contribution of the injurious weeds with the potential adverse impacts the spread of the weeds can have on local agriculture and animal health and welfare, the Government does not intend to repeal the Weeds Act 1959 at this time.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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