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What to do if you have an invasive plant growing on your land

View profile for Adele Holliday
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Would you know if you had an invasive plant growing on your land?  If you were savvy enough to identify such a plant, would you know what you need to do, from a legal perspective, and what you should do, as a preventative measure?

There is much negative and sensationalist news about one invasive plant in particular, and it is one which all property lawyers are now very familiar with.  Japanese Knotweed was highlighted as a serious nuisance several years ago, with the Council for Mortgage Lenders issuing updated guidance for conveyancers in 2015.  Whilst it is all well and good your property lawyer being ‘in the know’, and offering you the necessary advice when you come to sell or buy your property, you need to know what to do if you spot the plant in your garden in the meantime.

What is it?

Japanese knotweed is a weed which spreads very rapidly and can grow to heights in excess of 7 feet – sometimes as much as 20cm per day!  It is argued by surveyors that it can undermine the structural integrity of buildings due to the strong roots, and it’s therefore a huge concern for mortgage lenders and house buyers alike.  It is also very expensive to treat and eradicate as the soil from affected land is classed as controlled waste.

What is the legal position?

Under provisions within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to cause Japanese Knotweed to grow in the wild.  Fly tipping cuttings of the weed or soil in which it has grown will lead to prosecution.

The government site advises that you can be fined up to £5000 or be sent to prison for up to 2 years if you allow contaminated soil or plant material to spread into the wild, and:

You must do both of the following:

  • prevent invasive non-native plants on your land from spreading into the wild and causing a nuisance
  • prevent harmful weeds on your land from spreading on to a neighbour’s property

There is also now provision within the Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 for non-native invasive plants.  It is not a crime to have Japanese Knotweed growing on your property, but you do need to ensure that it is controlled properly and safely to prevent it becoming a problem for your neighbourhood.   

You can tackle small areas of growth yourself, but it is much more advisable to seek the assistance of a specialist company who will devise a management plan in order to ultimately eradicate the plant from your land.

What happens if I don’t deal with growth?

In extreme circumstances, it can render your property, and your neighbour’s property, very difficult to sell.  A recent case in Wales has highlighted the severity of leaving Japanese Knotweed to grow unchecked; Network Rail have been ordered to pay considerable damages to two homeowners after the weed grew to such an extent that the rhizomes had encroached underneath the homeowners’ land.   Network Rail had failed to carry out any work to eradicate the plant despite repeated requests from the homeowners.

Is it REALLY all that bad…?

There are differing opinions and the debate continues, as the Property Care Association (PCA) recently published some new research.  Their findings have shown that ‘although it is fast growing and capable of causing damage to paths, driveways, garden walls, it is an herbaceous perennial which lacks the potential to cause significant disturbance to normal building foundations’.  The study goes on to state that where the weed is found alongside buildings, ‘it can normally be treated in situ without the need for urgent structural works’. 

How this will be construed given the recent decision in the case of Network Rail remains to be seen, but it would be welcome news if it can be established that the weed is not as destructive to our homes as we had first thought.

Our advice remains the same however; familiarise yourself with what the plant looks like (God bless the internet!) and remain alert.  Prevention is better (and cheaper!) than cure.