How to prevent the spread of ragwort: guidance

The guide offers advice to prevent and control the spread of ragwort where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals.

Appendix 5: disposal


1 The safe and effective disposal of ragwort is an important part of ragwort control. Disposing of ragwort responsibly reduces the risk of further spread by seed dispersal and regrowth from root sections. Early and effective control of ragwort will minimise the problems of disposal.

Disposal options

2 The options for disposal will depend on the amount of ragwort to be disposed of, the type of site, and local resources available. Whenever practicable, ragwort should be disposed of on site. This will reduce the inadvertent spreading of seeds during transport. Options for disposal include: composting; incineration; controlled burning and landfill.

Legal framework

3 Regulations for agricultural waste 5 mean that unwanted agricultural waste (this includes ragwort from all farmland, or from land used for keeping horses and ponies) now comes within the definition of commercial waste. This means that it must comply with Waste Management Regulations 6.

4 Waste Management Regulations can require waste disposal sites to apply for a Waste Management Licence (WML). With on-site disposal of ragwort plant matter, it is likely that an exemption to having a WML can be gained. Advice should be sought from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on the requirement for licensing and registering an exemption from licensing. On-site disposal facilities for large quantities of plant matter may require planning permission; check with your Local Authority.

5 It is unlikely that the incineration of the plant will fall within the terms of the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations 7 and require a permit to operate. Contact SEPA for advice and permitting. A plant that has a PPC permit may not require a WML.

Note: Waste Management Regulations do not apply to waste from domestic properties.

Transporting ragwort

6 Ragwort is able to set seed even after being pulled, dug or cut and therefore there is a high risk of seed dispersal to neighbouring land during transportation. To avoid seed dispersal ragwort should only be transported in sealed bags or enclosed containers. Where the plants are bulky, they can be cut up to assist packing. To avoid unnecessary seed dispersal, seed heads should be cut off first and packed.


  • remains toxic when sprayed, cut, dug or pulled
  • once cut, the flower can set seed
  • seeds remain viable and can be easily dispersed
  • in its fresh state (un-wilted) is difficult to burn
  • is bulky to transport
  • can only be composted in controlled conditions
  • should only be transported in sealed bags/containers

Key Pointers


  • think through the options for disposal at the same time as planning the control system
  • select on-site disposal where possible
  • select the most appropriate disposal option
  • always use gloves and clothing that covers exposed skin, e.g. arms and legs
  • minimise the risks of exposure to pollen and other airborne particles by wearing a suitable facemask
  • wash exposed skin thoroughly after handling material and before eating
  • ensure that any contractors hired for the disposal are properly registered and/or licensed (check with SEPA)


  • bury in manure heaps
  • use as animal bedding
  • dig, bury or plough into the ground
  • attempt to dry ragwort where animals may gain access to it
  • allow the liquid from decomposing ragwort to drain directly to any ditch, drain or watercourse
  • cause dark smoke by attempting to burn wet ragwort, or by using other flammable materials that may directly cause dark smoke (e.g. rubber or plastics)
  • allow seed dispersal from plant residues that are awaiting disposal
  • transport ragwort unnecessarily
  • transport ragwort unless it is in sealed bags or containers

7 Rotting down (biodegrading) using a compost bin

This does not constitute composting.

When to use this option

For disposing of small quantities where ragwort can be safely rotted down on-site.

The capacity of standard compost bins is limited and they are only suitable for small-scale disposal. In compost bins the ragwort material is biodegraded by the combined process of rotting down and composting.

What is required?

A proprietary, rigid-type plastic compost bin or similar, with lid, such as available from a garden centre.

Where to site it?

The compost bin should be located away from any ditch, watercourse, or area where animals may have access to it.

How to go about it?

The ground should be levelled where the compost bin is sited. The earth should be loosened so that earthworms, insects and micro-organisms can move into material and any liquid can drain and disperse to the soil.

If the material is collected in plastic sacks, these must be emptied into the compost bin directly. If paper sacks are used, these could be loaded into the compost bin and should be sliced and consolidated to increase the rate of biodegradation. The residues should be covered with a layer of grass clippings to help start the biodegradation process and help prevent the material drying out. If the process dries out, then there is the risk that some seeds or root material may not be destroyed and may lie dormant. Sufficient water should be added to keep the residues moist. However, there is still a risk of spreading viable material when the compost bin is emptied. The risks can be reduced by allowing the rotting down to continue for up to 12 months retention in the compost bin, during which time no fresh material should be added. If there are any concerns about the residues they should be transported to landfill. For advice please check with your Local Authority.

8 Controlled burning and small scale incineration

When to use this option

For disposing of small quantities where ragwort can be safely wilted prior to burning/incineration.

The secure storage and controlled burning of less than 10 tonnes per day of plant matter may be allowed under an exemption from SEPA under the Waste Management Licensing Regulations. An exemption is not required for domestic sites.

An exemption is allowed under the Regulations above provided waste disposal is undertaken by the owner at the site where it was generated and is from agricultural premises or other relevant land including railway land, forest, woodland and recreational land.

Small scale incineration using a recognised device is preferable to open burning as it provides a greater degree of control and is less likely to cause dark smoke or a public nuisance. It is suitable where ragwort is collected in paper sacks and can be directed sufficiently so that it will burn. It is also suitable for ragwort that has been deflowered and wilted.

Weather conditions (especially wind direction) must be taken into account with due consideration for neighbouring ground cover, combustible vegetation, buildings and housing. Causing nuisance from smoke and deposits from bonfires is an offence.

Who can do this?


You should check with your Local Authority as some Local Authorities have bylaws prohibiting the burning of garden waste.


You should contact SEPA to register an exemption to use this option where the disposal rate is less than 10 tonnes per day.

When burning or incinerating, various precautions need to be taken to reduce fire risks especially in regard to siting and supervision.

What is required?

A proprietary small-scale incinerator; with a lid complete with chimney or flue and a secure area where the risks of the fire, smoke, or residues from the fire will have minimal impact on the environment and neighbours.

Where to site it?

The incinerator should be located away from any ditch, watercourse or area where animals are kept. It must be well away from any fuel tanks, gas storage cylinders, buildings, domestic property or road.

Due consideration must be taken to avoid nuisance and risk to others.

How to go about it?

The aim is to provide a two stage process: firstly, the storage and drying of the sacks of ragwort, and secondly, to burn the material within the heart of the fire or incinerator. Using paper sacks will allow some wilting to take place. Plastic sacks should not be used for wilting and should not be burnt.

For small quantities, bags can be stored in the incinerator and when dried could then be burnt. For larger quantities the ragwort will need to be wilted under cover before burning. Steps should be taken to minimise the risk that seed will set and disperse during drying. This can be achieved by deflowering the ragwort plants prior to wilting, and sealing the seed heads in bags prior to incineration or landfill.

The addition of straw, dry brushwood or hedge trimmings will help the fire to burn. Where an incinerator is used the sacks of plant residue should be loaded into the incinerator only one at a time, and the flue/lid replaced each time. This will draw the exhaust smoke and gases and help maintain the temperature. From time to time, more dry brushwood or hedge clippings should be added to maintain the heat of the fire.

9 Domestic refuse collection

When to use this option

On domestic premises, for small amounts of ragwort which can be disposed of in domestic refuse subject to Local Authority approval.

How to go about it?

For a small amount of ragwort arising on domestic premises, sealing the ragwort plant in a double layer plastic sack for collection, or placing it into a refuse wheelie-bin for collection as domestic refuse, may be acceptable. Check with your Local Authority. To avoid bulk, plants can be cut up to assist packing. To avoid seed dispersal, seed heads should be cut off first and packed.

Where the Local Authority provides a 'Green Waste Collection', ragwort should not be mixed with the 'Green Waste', unless the Local Authority permits its inclusion. This is because some composting facilities may not have the necessary resources and procedures in place for handling ragwort. Check with your Local Authority.

10 Composting using a fully contained system

When to use this option

For disposing of ragwort where on-site or off-site facilities and expertise is available to compost ragwort or green waste containing ragwort to the British Standard PAS 100:2005. Composting of ragwort should only be carried out where British Standard PAS 100:2005 or equivalent can be met. This will ensure that all material is composted effectively. Where there are any concerns that this standard cannot be met, then the residues should be disposed to landfill. Composting sites need to be registered with SEPA for an exemption from the need to hold a Waste Management Licence. Please contact SEPA for advice.

What is required?

A fenced off area, goods-yard, compound, or enclosed building and a structure that enables the containment of any liquids that may drain from being affected by rain or by wind. The combination of enclosure and containment should provide security to prevent unauthorised access.

Where to site it?

Such a system should be sited at least 10 metres from any watercourse, including rivers, streams, canals, side ponds/side canals, ponds, reservoirs or lochs and it should be away from animals.

How to go about it?

Please see British Standard PAS 100: 2005 specification for composted materials which can be obtained from the WRAP organisation; email: or telephone: 0808 1002040.

11 Biomass facility or permitted incinerator

When to use this option

Some farms, nurseries and rural estates may have their own solid fuel-fired boiler. Such systems are commonly fuelled by straw bales, woodchip, coppiced wood, and other forms of biomass, e.g. miscanthus (elephant grass). Such solid fuel burners may be utilised for ragwort disposal where residues are the property of the boiler owner and is located on the same land. Those wishing to dispose of ragwort via a biomass facility should contact SEPA to establish whether a waste exemption or licence is required.

Where ragwort disposal is for a third party, a waste transfer note would be needed.

Where the ragwort material has been dried and then baled after cutting as part of a pasture topping exercise, then such biomass fuelled boilers may be ideal. The size of the combustion chamber and means of loading should be carefully considered. The risks and precautions required during the storage of the baled material should also be thought through.

Incinerators are purely for the disposal of specified waste materials, e.g. proprietary designed and permitted farm-type small scale carcass cremators.

12 Waste management company

For large scale disposal where on-site disposal is not possible.

Using a waste management company is ideal when there is a large quantity of ragwort to be disposed of or where other options are not available. Disposing of material this way means that it is removed professionally and disposed of legally.

The waste management company removing the ragwort should provide either a wheeled or bulk container (a lidded skip or roll-on hook lift container) or otherwise a refuse collection vehicle with containment or enclosed compactor mechanism. Open skips should not be used.

It should be noted that where the sole purpose or intent is to dispose of waste, then any such material should not be transferred to a third party for disposal unless they are a bona fide registered and licensed waste contractor, and the facility is similarly licensed.

How to do this?

Use the Yellow Pages or trade directory to find a waste management company. Alternatively, your local waste management officer at the Local Authority may be able to advise of suitable contractors. The contractor/waste management company must be registered with SEPA. You should contact SEPA to check that the contractor is suitably registered.

Decision tree to help select the most appropriate disposal option

Decision tree to help select the most appropriate disposal option

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