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Japanese Knotweed

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in preventing the spread of Japanese knotweed.

My Lords, the work of local action groups, many established with Defra’s support, has reduced or eradicated Japanese knotweed in several places across England. Community protection notices, available since last year, enable local authorities to require landowners to deal with any nuisance caused by the plant. We continue to explore biocontrol options through the controlled release of a psyllid insect and expect to receive further reports of its progress in December.

Is my noble friend aware that I first asked this Question 26 years ago? We are certainly showing progress and I am most grateful to him for his reply.

My Lords, my noble friend has certainly been tenacious and persistent in dealing with a real thug of a plant. We have had this plant since 1825, when, with good will, it arrived at horticultural gardens; 20 years later it arrived at Kew and was sent up to Edinburgh. I am afraid that we have the consequences of not understanding, as we do now with hindsight, that we should never have allowed this plant to come to these islands.

My Lords, as the Minister has said that certain local authorities have successfully dealt with Japanese knotweed, what is to stop other local authorities dealing with it in the same effective manner?

My Lords, the noble Lord hits on something as regards where it is seen to be a local priority. I should say that this is about local authorities in partnership with householders and landowners in a real community effort. I acknowledge that in Bristol, for instance, 95% of Japanese knotweed surveyed is under management. Cornwall County Council is a leader in tackling Japanese knotweed and is committed to controlling the spread of the plant. These are examples of how, with local action groups, we can make a real difference.

My Lords, I have not been asking these questions as long as the noble Baroness because I have not been here quite as long as her, but if she has been tenacious and persistent, as the Minister says, she is unfortunately not quite as tenacious and persistent—and certainly not as aggressive—as this dreadful weed.

The Minister rightly says that the successful areas now are in local action and traditional means of getting rid of the plant, and that waiting for the famous psyllid, the insect which is going to do the trick, is simply not going to be sufficient. As the noble Lord just asked, why are the Government not making much more effort to spread the good practice, such as that in Pendle, where I live, which is doing a very good job indeed of getting rid of it?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, because it is very important that we raise awareness of this plant: awareness-raising is a key element of the strategy on invasive non-native species. There have been many initiatives, such as the Be Plant Wise and Check, Clean, Dry campaigns launched by Defra. It is very important that we all work together on this, because the examples of where it is working and we are eradicating the plant are of huge benefit to local communities.

My Lords, the Minister has described welcome progress, for which the Government are to be thanked. However, how far have we got on this? The Minister mentioned individual initiatives. Where are we in terms of the national scale of the problem?

My Lords, there are 74 local action groups in Great Britain. They range from the south-west to the north-west, Nottingham, Devon, Yorkshire and the Peak District. I have already mentioned Bristol and Cornwall. A Norfolk group has been very successful in saving a great special area of conservation. To answer the noble Lord, these groups are spread across the country. I hope that the success of all the local action groups will bear fruit, with others nearby thinking that this is a good thing to do as well.

My Lords, five years ago, when I was happy enough to be a Minister in Defra, the scientific community was convinced that we were about to take an initiative which could well conquer Japanese knotweed with the introduction of a psyllid which consumes it. It was regarded that that would be a national solution to a whole range of very costly problems we have with Japanese knotweed, not least the enormous cost to our rail system of seeking to keep it clear of the weed. What happened to that development, and why are the Government talking now only about local initiatives, not a national one?

My Lords, I specifically raised in my first Answer the biocontrol scheme that we are progressing, and we are looking at the results. It was never intended that we would be able to eradicate it. What we were hoping was that this would reduce the invasive capacity, but we are looking at the psyllid experiments and assessing them. There has been a further release in river courses because that is an area where we think it may adapt best, but we are waiting for further results on the matter.

Does the Minister think that perhaps the assiduity of following this up for 26 years has had an impact? Does he advise us to do this with other departments or does he think that some of them are quite incorrigible and will never give way?

If I may revert to plants, which is my area of responsibility, this issue is really important. In asking this Question my noble friend probably provided the catalyst for the formation of 74 local action groups. This is about people who care about their communities and want to rid themselves of what—as I have already said—is a very invasive thug of a plant that does no good to our natural habitat.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that Japanese knotweed has a kind of mythic status as an invasive species. It is all we ever really talk about, but there are many others, and he has already touched upon the fact that there are other invasive species—both plant and animal—about which we have to be concerned. Could he tell the House what is coming down the track after Japanese knotweed to which we should be paying special attention?

The noble Baroness raises something which certainly in Defra we are considering all the time. In fact, I leave for the monthly biosecurity meeting after Question Time. We are leading Europe on many of these issues of biosecurity. There are around 1,000 species around the world that we are concerned about, and we are seeking to ensure that they do not reach our shores, be they plants or animals. We are very much on to this.