Karen Walsh: Good year for the noxious weeds

Japanese knotweed

Japanese knotweed poses a direct risk to the farming community, due to its uncontrollable growth and the difficulty in removing it. However, it is not directly referenced by any legislation, unlike “noxious weeds”.

If one takes a look at the countryside, it is not difficult to notice that it has been a particularly good year for the ragwort plant.

A mixture of warm and humid conditions allowed it to flourish.

This has raised some interesting discussions regarding the legal position in relation to this matter.

Ragwort is extremely distinctive, due to its striking yellow flower.

It is a common pest plant for farmers, gardeners and local councils alike.

It may be common knowledge, but it is worth repeating that ragwort is in fact poisonous to most farm animals, such as cattle, pigs and horses.

Animals may have natural instincts to avoid eating the ragwort plant in the field, but when it is ensiled, they may be forced to consume it.

Should I worry about legal proceedings being instituted against me for having ragwort on my land?

The short answer is both yes and no.

In the last few years, the number of notices issued by the Department of Agriculture have remained low, with under 30 notices issued nationally.

However, if prosecuted a farmer could be at risk of a fine.

Under the Noxious Weeds Act 1936, it is an offence to allow noxious weeds as defined by the Minister for Agriculture, to grow on your land.

An Garda Síochána possess investigative powers under Section 4, and can serve a notice for the destruction of the plant.

On failure to comply with this notice, one may be at risk of an offence and liable to pay a fine of up to €1,000.

The fact that there are few notices issued by the Department does not mean that one is not at risk of being served with one, for failure to comply with the legislation.

Are there other weeds I should worry about?

Other examples of ‘noxious weeds’ as defined in the legislation are ‘thistle’ and the ‘dock leaf’.

However, such weeds pose less of a risk to farm animals. As a result, excluding an obvious, uncontainable infestation, legal proceedings are unlikely to be brought against you.

The developing case of the extremely relevant and worrying invasive species that is Japanese Knotweed has been highlighted recently, in the halting of development of 56 social housing units in Clonakilty, Co Cork.

This plant can seriously damage houses and buildings, and is classified as one of the top 100 worst invasive species worldwide.

It is not directly referenced by any legislation.

This is a worrying gap in the law.

Japanese knotweed poses a direct risk to the farming community, due to its uncontrollable growth and the difficulty in removing it.

The Wildlife Act 2000 prevents the planting of exotic or invasive species.

This does not go far enough in the battle against Japanese Knotweed.

What is the best way to stay protected from prosecution?

The removal of all ragwort plants, which prevents the dispersal of seeds, is the only way to successfully protect yourself.

Ragwort is a biennial plant. This means it grows over a two-year cycle, producing seeds in the second year.

In the case of a light infestation, a selective herbicide may be the solution, but where a large-scale infestation occurs, a systemic herbicide may have to be applied. 

Most farmers however, will be able to control ragwort by simply pulling by hand any plants which are spotted during their routine farm inspections.

The solution is to simply “close your eyes and pull like a dog”, like the famed O’Donovan rowing silver medallists in the Olympics !

What if my neighbour’s land is infested?

Due to wind dispersal of the ragwort seed, it is likely, depending on wind direction, that an infested field close by could cause the spread to a farmer’s clean, uncontaminated land.

This is a constant worry for farmers, due to the obvious financial of weeds in their grass or crops.

The first step is to contact your neighbour to see what can be done to prevent the spread. This may lead to a positive outcome. If not, a complaint can be made to the Department of Agriculture.

They may issue a notice for removal of weeds, before the Gardaí have to become involved.

An important secondary impact the presence of noxious weeds may have is on the Basic Payment entitlements.

Farmers have a responsibility to prevent the spread of noxious weeds and may be at risk of payment penalties otherwise.

It is becoming ever more important to control weeds, due to the diminishing returns from the dairy sector, the cost impact of weed on profitability, and the potential for animal deaths.


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