The legal standing of Giant Hogweed varies slightly across the UK, in England and Wales the primary legislation relating to knotweed is ‘Section 14(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA 1981)’. In Scotland this is still the overarching legislation but in effect has been superseded by the amendments which came into force with the ‘The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2012’. In relation to the management of Giant Hogweed, the practical application of the law is essentially the same.
Giant Hogweed is classified as an invasive species it is therefore the responsibility of the land owner to prevent the plant spreading to neighbouring land (or into the wild), and removal of plant must be conducted with due care and attention. There is no legal obligation to remove or treat hogweed as long as you’re not encouraging or allowing the growth on to adjacent land. As of schedule 9 of the ‘Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981’, you must not plant or cause to grow Giant Hogweed in the wild.
In Scotland the Scottish Minister, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) have powers to require land managers to take action in relation to invasive species. In practice this means that SNH who have responsibility for land based invasive species can put in place Species Control Orders or Emergency Control Orders to force a landowner to take action to prevent the spread of Giant Hogweed.
If the plant is obstructing a public footpath or otherwise can be deemed to be presenting a risk to human health local councils also have powers to compel landowners to take action to avoid causing harm. Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, allows for enforcement action to be taken where the giant hogweed is, or is likely to be, prejudicial to health.
The penalties for breaking the law can be severe, if taken to court you will be tried under the primary legislation and a person found guilty of an offence under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 could be liable to:
- imprisonment for up to six months and /or a fine of up to £40,000 (summary conviction)
- imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine, (conviction on indictment).
There are no regulations stating that you need to notify anyone Giant Hogweed is growing on your land. However reporting the growth of the plant to the Non-native Species Secretariat website (NNSS) does help with getting a handle on how quickly it’s spreading across the country.
In 2013 the UK government decreed that anyone failing to control Giant Hogweed (and other invasive weeds) could receive an anti-social behaviour order. It will be seen as committing a criminal offence. For an individual on-the-spot penalties of £100 can be issued, if prosecuted fines of up to £2500 and companies up to £20,000.