LANDOWNERS are being warned to take control of one of the country’s most invasive plants or risk a heavy fine or potential imprisonment.

A warm start to the summer followed by a period of rain has seen growth of the Giant Hogweed accelerate.

And with reports of burn injuries caused by the plant appearing in the national media, landowners, particularly those whose land includes public rights of way, should be on high alert.

Chris Charlton, partner in the planning and environment team at Clarke Willmott LLP, believes as awareness about the plant increases, then so does the likelihood of public liability cases.

Covered by the ‘Section 14(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA 1981)’, Giant Hogweed – or Giant Cow Parsley as it is also known – is classified as an invasive species and is therefore the responsibility of the land owner to prevent from spreading to neighbouring land (or into the wild).

If removal of the plant is needed, it must be done with due care and attention.

Chris said: “This is one of the most dangerous plants in the country and particularly thrives along paths and riverbanks where people are likely to be walking.

“There is no legal obligation to remove or treat hogweed as long as you are not encouraging or allowing the growth on to adjacent land.

“But if the plant is obstructing a public footpath or is deemed to be presenting a risk to human health, local councils also have powers to make landowners take action.”

According to the law, where Giant Hogweed is, or is likely to be, prejudicial to health, Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows for enforcement action to be taken.

Chris added: “If you know that the plant is on your land then doing nothing may make the consequences of doing nothing far worse."

The penalties for breaking the law can be severe –a fine of up to £40,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

In 2013 the government announced anyone failing to control Giant Hogweed could receive an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO). Breach of an ASBO is viewed as a criminal offence, where individuals may be given an on-the-spot fine of £100 with a prosecution resulting in a fine of up to £2500. For companies, this increases to £20,000.

Chris concluded: “There are no regulations stating that you need to notify anyone Giant Hogweed is growing on your land but if you do discover the plant is present the best thing to do is report it to the Non-native Species Secretariat website (NNSS).

“Our advice is to use an authorised contractor to get rid of the plant and prevent further spread. That way you know it has been dealt with properly rather than risking a potentially costly legal case.”