Mrs Akhtar’s nationally reported problemJames Spice
In recent days, the story of Birmingham couple Nasreen and Sajid Akhtar has made it to many of the UK’s leading publications. Their inability to sell their home because of their neighbour’s Japanese knotweed infestation was first reported in the Sunday Mail, then The Telegraph and The Sun picked up the story the next day. Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine even devoted a segment of his show to it, on which our very own Simon McGuigan offered advice and timelines dealing with the problem.
There is no doubt that it is a dramatic story, Mrs Akhtar is pictured surrounded by Japanese knotweed that trails over her neighbour’s fence. The story has obviously created a great deal of awareness about the plant and the problems that it can cause. However, the trouble is a lot of the information quoted isn’t sensible or accurate:
- The Sun quotes a number of self-help remedies, and states that in future ‘Experts are planning to make a Japanese bug which feeds on the knotweed available to gardeners’.This certainly isn’t a widely quoted solution to the problem amongst experts. Tests have been carried out on Aphalara itadori, a psyllid or plant louse similar to aphids that feeds on the sap of the plant and inhibits its growth. However, this will not eradicate the plant, just keep it in check. Not enough of these bugs have yet survived a British winter for their introduction to be considered feasible, even then this would need to be very carefully considered. We can all think of incidents where the introduction of one non-native species to combat another has gone horribly wrong.
- Jeremy Vine’s frequently called upon allotment expert, Terry Walton, said that the part of the problem is that it “makes a vast profusion of seed heads on top that spread the plant at an enormous rate,” and that Japanese knotweed is “impossible to get rid of unless it is treated with a special weed killer that only the local authorities now have.” In reality, it is highly improbable that Japanese knotweed would spread by seed in this country as only a single gender of the plant species was imported. In the UK, the plant can easily and quickly establish itself from the dispersal of even tiny sections of the rhizome (or root). There are a number of professional UK organisations that deal with Japanese knotweed removal and eradication, in fact local authorities and Network Rail often contract work out to them. The Property Care Association (PCA) website is a good place to start, as they require their members to take professional qualifications, attain levels of technical competence, service delivery and financial stability.
- Many of the publications imply that Mrs Akhtar has no remedy, however should the weed spread to her land, and her neighbour decides not to act, then her legal remedy in England and Wales would be under private nuisance (an area of Tort law). This comes into force where the actions of the defendant is “causing a substantial and unreasonable interference with a [claimant]’s land or his/her use or enjoyment of that land”. In this instance an examination of the agreement between the neighbour and his Housing Association would need to be reviewed in order to determine who to take action against.
- The Telegraph quotes a number of removal methods that could result in the removal or eradication of the plant. However, work undertaken by an individual is unlikely to satisfy a mortgage lender, they will want to know that the plant has been professionally treated and that a Management Plan is in place to prevent recurring growth of the plant.
When looking for a contractor to carry out a Japanese knotweed removal service, it is sensible to choose an organisation that offers an insurance backed guarantee for the work carried out. The range of solutions available for removing Japanese knotweed is not limited to those quoted by the newspapers; Japanese Knotweed Management offers a range of services that are tailored to an individual client’s needs and a 10 year insurance backed guarantee on all treatments.