Skip to main content

Japanese Knotweed

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in eliminating Japanese knotweed from the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we are in the fourth year of the controlled release of the psyllid Aphalara itadori as a means of controlling Japanese knotweed. No non-target impacts have been observed by the monitoring programme but, as yet, the organism has had difficulty establishing self-sustaining populations. This year, therefore, we will conduct caged trials releasing larger numbers to establish higher population densities.

Will my noble friend agree to holding a publicity campaign so that this plant can be easily recognised, especially by landowners and, even more importantly, by people seeking to buy a house with land, because in some cases they are being refused a mortgage?

My Lords, in returning regularly to this question, my noble friend is almost as persistent as the weed itself. I am not sure whether she is a hardy annual or a perennial. We need to spread public awareness of a number of non-native species including, of course, Japanese knotweed. The website is our central point. Other awareness-raising measures include nearly 70 identification sheets, including one for Japanese knotweed, the Environment Agency’s PlantTracker mobile device app, which I recommend to your Lordships, non-native species local action groups, and the Be Plant Wise and Check, Clean Dry campaigns, which target aquatic security and non-native species more generally. Awareness-raising is a key focus of our current review of the GB strategy on invasive non-native species.

My noble friend mentioned mortgages. Two years ago, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Council of Mortgage Lenders agreed that a less draconian approach was needed.

My Lords, while we are awaiting the result of those trials—four years is a long time—can we not have some action for those people who have knotweed on their neighbours’ land? I have not got any on mine, but my neighbours have. Can we at least persuade local authorities—without legislation—to be more co-operative with local people? My local authority will not co-operate at all: it will give me no information and is quite unhelpful. I know that some are better than that. How about leaning on local authorities?

That is a subject which I have been thinking about very carefully. It is quite interesting that the community protection notices under the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act are potentially useful in this regard and we have to look carefully at them, as is the community trigger, which we should also look into.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, on her persistence in this matter. It has been going on for as long as I have been in this House, which is probably too long now—or certainly too long for my own good, anyway. I would not, however, describe my noble friend as invasive or, to use the Royal Horticultural Society’s description of knotweed, as a real thug. Her question was: what progress is being made on getting rid of it? The answer is that there is none; it is getting more and more widespread. Is it not the case that the time has come when allowing this invasive, alien weed to grow on your land should be an offence?

I should say to my noble friend that Aphalara itadori is not planned to eradicate knotweed but is part of a programme on how to manage it. We have got to a stage where it is here—and we should acknowledge that fact—but we should manage it. There are other tools that can be used in this matter. In fact, when my noble friend Lady Sharples asked the same Question last year, she referred to the use of an herbicide which can be effective. My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to more pressure on landlords. It would be disproportionate, and possibly unfair, to impose very strong conditions on landowners because, apart from anything else, this weed can arrive on their land through no fault of their own. However, farmers receiving the single farm payment are required to take reasonable steps to prevent its spread.

The Minister is absolutely right to try to pursue this pernicious weed as much as possible but there is a belief that, in a restricted sense, persistent application of the herbicide to which he referred will actually be quite effective in killing it, in a limited state. Is there any way of doing some emergency research on those one or two herbicides and to try to publicise that? It would remove a lot of difficulties for many people who are trying to sell houses and clean up their land.

It is a difficult one but the answer to that question is that the herbicide which the noble Lord and I are talking about is effective if used persistently, as he says, so I do not think that further research is needed. The question is the extent to which we want to spray around quite powerful pesticides. That is why I suggest to your Lordships that things such as biocontrol are also very valuable.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that invasive species of this kind are no respecters of boundaries, whether political or otherwise. Can he therefore assure the House that the UK Government will take a positive attitude towards the oncoming European Union regulations in these matters, which are being discussed in the European Union even at this moment?

Yes, my Lords. Indeed, the regulation has now been approved by COREPER and the European Parliament’s environment committee. It has also now cleared the scrutiny committees of both the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House. I understand that the regulation will now be presented to the European Parliament’s plenary session on 16 April. If approved there, the regulation will be presented to the next suitable Council meeting and should then come into force on 1 January next year.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that he views this with a proper sense of urgency? A recent survey has said that there is not six square miles of land in this country which is not infected with this weed. In Swansea, they have calculated that they have 62,000 tonnes of it to get rid of. It is clear that this is a major problem. The effect upon Network Rail and the railway system is absolutely dramatic. We want the Minister to demonstrate a real sense of urgency on this issue.

I am sorry if the noble Lord thinks that I am not. He is right about the effects. He specifically mentioned Network Rail, which is a member of the project consortium for the natural control of Japanese knotweed, and it is fully involved in our discussions about how the trial proceeds. It has been a major funder of the research and was among the instigators of the project. If it would meet with noble Lords’ approval, I would like to offer a briefing session to those who are interested on our approach generally to invasive non-native species.