Japanese knotweed was first introduced in the UK as an ornamental plant.
The impressive growth and white flowers made it a popular choice for gardeners. Now the World Conservation Union class Japanese knotweed as one of the world's worst invasive species.
Opinions of knotweed have certainly changed over the last 100 years - now everyone wants to eradicate the plant. The question to ask is how this can be done? There are many specialist companies who are tackling it. But can they do it alone, or will they need the support of Government and Local Authority?
Historically as a nation, we have been notoriously unsuccessful in the prevention and spread of invasive species. You only need to cast your eyes over the Schedule 9 list of non-native invasive species in the Wildlife and Countryside Act to realise how common place many of these invaders are. From grey squirrels, signal crayfish and Canada geese to rhododendron, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed and, yes, you guessed it Japanese knotweed! If you cross reference the words “Ministers admit defeat” with the species on Schedule 9, there is a worrying trend. And Japanese knotweed is no exception. It was reported in 2015 that there is now too much knotweed covering the UK for the Government to feasibly tackle at a national level - it has been left to grow undetected and uncontrolled for too long. George Eustice MP stated there were not any plans to attempt national Japanese knotweed eradication because of the prohibitively expensive cost attached, not to mention the practicalities of such a scheme given the widespread nature of the plant.
The House of Lords debated knotweed at the end of 2015. Ministers discussed the success of local initiatives (there are 74 local Japanese knotweed action groups in Great Britain), and suggested that through expansion of these groups knotweed could be tackled in a cost effective way. The discussion also focused on raising awareness, citing this is the key to winning the battle against knotweed. Awareness of the invader is certainly higher now than it used to be – but this probably has more to do with the fact mortgage lenders will refuse to lend on properties with untreated knotweed along with various horror stories we have seen about knotweed in the national press.
While using action groups and community groups sounds great in practice (let’s hear it for the “Big Society”), we have real concerns about this approach. Without the right expertise in place, the situation could be exacerbated; we have all seen the pictures in the press! Even incorrect herbicide application can render plants untreatable, leaving excavation the only option.
So what can be done?
Local Authorities have a variety of powers they can call upon when dealing with Japanese knotweed. Under the Town & Country Planning Act section 215, they have the ability to force landowners to clear land that is infested with knotweed, if it is to the detriment of the surrounding area. They can even go as far as sourcing a company to do the works, subsequently charging it back to the landowner.
And of course the somewhat controversial ASBO legislation where property owners not controlling Japanese knotweed could find themselves being served with a Community Protection Notice. Failure to comply with the Community Protection Notice could result in criminal prosecution and large fines.
Perhaps the most used piece of legislation however, is that of Private Nuisance, whereby if knotweed is encroaching from one piece of land onto another, the victim is given a form of redress through the civil courts.
Civil nuisance claims probably count for over 90% of actions relating to Japanese knotweed – so the question is why are Local Authorities not taking landowners to task using the legislation already available to them? Perhaps it is because they cannot afford to. Or perhaps they have not prioritised treatment of knotweed on land under their own control, so to pursue private land owners in any meaningful way would be rather hypocritical…! We are not going to tar all Local Authorities with the same brush, some do stand out as leading the way – Devon, Cornwall, Bristol City to name but a few that take knotweed very seriously, but at Environet, we can’t help feeling that so much more could be done to combat what is an increasingly worrying situation.
Having knotweed is not the end of the world. It can be successfully treated or removed, and insurance backed guarantees put in place. It just needs victims of encroachment to know their rights and exercise them, Local Authorities to step up the use of their enforcement powers for offenders, and private land owners to take responsibility and deal with their knotweed rather than ignoring it! Simple huh?!
If you need to get to grips with your knotweed problem, and would like some information on our Japanese knotweed removal techniques, please get in touch today on 01932 868 700.