Under the Weeds Act 1959 the Secretary of State has the power to issue an enforcement notice requiring an occupier of land on which ragwort is growing to take action to prevent it spreading to neighbouring land. If an occupier has unreasonably failed to comply with an enforcement notice, the Secretary of State may take action to arrange for the weeds to be cleared and recover the cost of doing so. The Weeds Act was amended by the Ragwort Control Act 2003, which provides for the publication of a code of practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort.
Defra's policy under the Act is to investigate complaints about injurious weeds where there is a risk of spread to land used for horses and other livestock or to agricultural activities, and where the complainant has already made an attempt to settle the matter informally. Defra's policy is to control rather than eradicate ragwort and other injurious weeds, as it is recognised that both make an important contribution to the biodiversity of the countryside.
Natural England investigates complaints under the Weeds Act on behalf of Defra, and from 2006 to August 2008 it has received and processed a total of 850 formal complaints and has issued 85 on-the-spot enforcement notices where an occupier had not responded to an initial letter requesting action to clear weeds. Natural England has also issued 10 clearance notices and arranged for contractors to be employed to clear the weeds.