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Removing invasive, non-native plants

Many invasions in the countryside start as a result of people disposing of unwanted plants but sometimes trying to remove the invasive species can make the situation worse if best practice is not followed.

Protective clothing

When removing invasive plants by hand, always wear gloves. Special precautions and extra protective clothing are necessary for some species such as giant hogweed and Euphorbias, the sap of which can cause phytophotodermatitus (a blistering of the skin caused by a combination of the sap and exposure to sunlight). The skin typically blisters about 24-48 hours after exposure, and dense pigmentation is visible after three to five days. This may persist for six years or more. Cut material can also remain active for several hours after cutting. See The Environment Agency Managing Non-Native Plants booklet and the GN Non Native Species Secretariat website for more information.

Before attempting to remove invasive plants

Please remember not to trespass or remove plants from land or water that does not belong to you without the consent of the landowner. On designated conservation sites such as SSSIs, you will need the permission of the relevant statutory agency such as Natural England.

Consider how you will dispose of the cleared plants

The Environment Agency’s booklet Managing Non-Native Plants should be read before carrying out invasive removal works. It is also worth consulting the Environment Agency before carrying out any removal if the scale if the problem is quite large. The booklet gives guidance on removing and disposing some of the most problematic invasives species including:

  • Japanese knotweed
  • Giant hogweed
  • Himalayan Balsam
  • New Zealand pigmyweed (aka Australian swamp stonecrop)
  • Parrot's feather
  • Floating pennywort
  • Creeping water primrose

Weil’s Disease

When working in or by ponds, always take special care. Make sure the depth of the pond will not make work hazardous. Weil’s Disease, although uncommon, can be caught through contact with contaminated water in canals and non-flowing watercourses. The following precautionary steps will help avoidance:

  • - Ensure all minor cuts, abrasions, sores etc are covered up with waterproof plasters.
  • - Wear waterproof gloves.
  • - Take care to avoid dirty water entering eyes, nose or mouth.
  • - Maintain normal standards of hygiene and always wash hands thoroughly with clean water before drinking, eating or smoking.

If you do not dispose of plants appropriately, you may be committing an offence. It is also an offence to cause certain species of non-native plant to grow in the wild. Read the Invasive plants and the law pdf for more information .

Some invasive species, including Japanese knotweed & giant hogweed, are controlled waste and must be disposed of properly at registered sites. The Environment Agency must be contacted for more information about their disposal. For more information visit or call 08708 506 506.

The GB Non Native Species Secretariat website also provides some guidance on management of some invasive species.

The Scottish Government has produced a Code of Practice On Non-Native Species which was developed to help people who manage land containing non-native plants and animals.

Pulling by hand

For most species, small infestations can be controlled through pulling by hand on a regular and ongoing basis and this is considered the most environmentally friendly approach. But take care not to leave cut or pulled plants in fields with livestock as some plants may be poisonous when eaten. For large infestations however, use of herbicides may be necessary.


Chemicals can be an effective means of controlling larger infestations of invasive plants but Plantlife recommends manual alternatives whenever possible, particularly if the affected area is small. Before deciding to use a herbicide, we advise you to:

  • Seek advice on the most appropriate herbicide to use. Note that some chemicals kill all vegetation they contact.
  • Only use domestic proprietary brands of herbicide (certain herbicides should only be handled by a licensed professional).
  • Always take proper safety precautions and read the product label beforehand.
  • Plan carefully when to undertake the work. Consider the life cycles of other wild life. Some herbicides fail to work in wet conditions and outside of the growing season.
  • Be aware of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 1988 regulations.
  • Consult the Environment Agency in England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland if you intend to use herbicide in or around a waterbody or watercourse.

Advice on for specific non-native, invasive species

Advice on removing specific non-native, invasive plants can be found at the bottom of their individual species pages:

Background image © Trevor Renals.