Japanese knotweed invasion defeats council finances
See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, July 29th, p.2
If you see menacing Japanese knotweed on private land near your property, don’t think about asking the council to issue a Community Protection Notice. Carmarthenshire’s Executive Board agreed this week (July 26) not to get involved in problems of Japanese knotweed, and other invasive non-native plants, like Himalayan balsam, on land it does not own. The council will continue to remove Japanese knotweed from its own properties.
Japanese knotweed can grow a metre a month, a new plant can appear from a single centimetre of chopped stem, and in 2015 the UK government estimated that national eradication would cost around £1.5 billion. The cost and work involved in removing the weed can stop property sales and blight whole areas. The plants can crack concrete and other construction materials, and crowd out other species, diminishing biodiversity.
Carmarthenshire’s problem is lack of money to tackle both Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam, which have been spreading over the county, especially along the banks of rivers and streams. The Executive Board is asking the Welsh Local Government Association to urge the Welsh Government to find more cash for the control of invasive plants, which the Home Office now regards as an anti-social behaviour problem.
The Home Office does not go so far as to blame the plants, but places responsibility on owners of land which the weeds have invaded. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gives local councils and the police power to order landowners to control invasive species, by issuing a Community Protection Notice which, if ignored, could trigger a fine – as high as £20,000 for companies.
But the county council is very wary of using Community Protection Notices for weed control. Legal advice to the Executive Board pointed out that there are “few means available to landowners to physically tackle Japanese knotweed, and these are of limited effect”. It is quite possible, the Executive Board heard, that the requirements specified in a notice might not work. The available methods are also expensive, which would provide recipients of a notice with a valid ground of appeal.
Council experts concluded that investigation and enforcement to remediate invasive species would be very time consuming and “therefore very resource intensive on the officers of the section”.
Individuals and groups do have the possibility of pulling a ‘community trigger’ to require a local authority and the police to undertake a case review and consider what can be done to resolve the problem, so Carmarthenshire might yet be drawn into this knotty issue.
That is, if the insect attack fails. Plant lice called Aphalara itadori have been imported from Japan to feed on knotweed infestations. The idea is for the lice to weaken the plants so that their growth is stunted, the BBC reported last week.
This is a foray into the unknown, because no one knows exactly how the lice will react with plant and animal life in their surroundings, but other methods have failed to stop the inexorable spread of the weed pest.