This notoriously tricky invasive plant has its roots across Manchester, but following a landmark trial last year home-owners are not as defenceless as they once were.

For the uninitiated, Japanese knotweed is a bamboo-like plant that was imported to the UK by enthusiastic horticulturists in the Victorian era. At the time this plant was hailed for its hardiness and rigid structure, so it was quickly put to work fortifying the expanding network of canals and rail-lines. It wasn’t until some time later that the plant’s invasive qualities were discovered and much longer until scientists uncovered why traditional methods of removal weren’t proving effective.

The reason why Japanese knotweed is feared so much by gardeners and home-owners is two-fold: it’s both a fast-grower and it also has an ingenious method of reproduction. Knotweed grows incredibly fast, during the peak growing season shoots can rise up to 10cm in a single day. An absent gardener or busy landlord could quite easily miss a small forest of knotweed sprouting on their land in the space of a week, unfortunately removing this plant is not a quick process.

Whilst our cooler climate makes traditional reproduction difficult for knotweed, it’s biologically designed to replicate itself from the smallest of fragments. This means that any attempt to simply hack the plant out of the ground will invariably result in these ‘rhizome’ fragments being spread further. Hapless gardeners who have attempted to attack their infestations with lawn-mowers or hedge strimmers might be rewarded with initial gains, but will find that their problems will have multiplied in just a matter of months.

Risk-factors for the knotweed infestations include proximity to canals, rail-lines or areas of major development: which are all qualities that you could attribute to Manchester.

Keeping a watchful eye out for Japanese knotweed through the year is a smart idea for anyone who wants to protect the value of their home. A bad knotweed infestation has the potential to knock 20% off the value of a property, but you might find yourself even more out of pocket if your problem plant spreads into a neighbouring property.

Laws exist in the UK to ensure that the spread of Japanese knotweed and other such invasive plants is kept in check, it may surprise you to learn that you can even receive an ASBO notice for letting the plant escape the confines of your land. The Community Protection Notice would require the recipient to make reasonable efforts to remove the plant, or risk facing prosecution and a hefty fine.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 both exist to outline Japanese knotweed’s status as ‘controlled waste’. Any scrap of the plant, even soil containing fragments of the root, is to be considered as contaminated and disposing of this incorrectly is punishable with fines of up to £5000, or even a prison sentence.

Knotweed infestations do not spring out of the ground for no reason. If you’ve discovered the plant on your land then it’s likely to have entered from a neighbouring property. In this situation your neighbours would be in breach of the law and would be responsible for paying for the removal of the knotweed. Luckily for home-owners, a precedent was set last year when a couple successfully claimed £15,000 in damages from Network Rail for allowing knotweed to grow onto their land.

Now the precedent has been set, home-owners are in a much stronger legal position and are better able to protect the value of their property. Discovering knotweed on your land is not the death knell that it once was, if you take the necessary steps in time then you can ensure that you’re financially covered to eradicate the infestation and protect your assets.

If you discover Japanese knotweed on your land then it’s important that you do something about it sooner rather than later:

  • Get an assessment from a professional knotweed surveyor accredited by the Property Care Association (PCA), so that you know where you stand.
  • If you can ascertain that the plant has entered your land from a neighbouring property then you may be able to pursue them with a claim to cover the costs of removing the plant.
  • Contact an expert in the field for Japanese knotweed legal advice to help you understand your position.
  • Do not attempt to remove the plant yourself, or try dropping it off at a refuse site (as this is against the law.)

Mark Montaldo is a solicitor with over 12 years of experience in the field of Litigation & Dispute Resolution and is currently Head of the Civil Litigation Department at Cobleys Solicitors Ltd. He is one of the county’s leading litigator in the field of Japanese knotweed nuisance claims and has advised the Parliament Select Committee on the issues that individuals face when dealing with this invasive plant.

Article contributed by Mark Montaldo


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