Japanese Knotweed (Control of Growth)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th September 2015.

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Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government how the growth of Japanese knotweed is controlled. (S4O-04590)

Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

Scottish Natural Heritage is the lead agency for advising on the management of Japanese knotweed. Much of that control work is undertaken by owners of land on which the plant is growing. SNH encourages and co-ordinates action by other groups or bodies. For example, the Tweed invasives project has been delivering comprehensive control of Japanese knotweed across the Tweed catchment since 2003. SNH also has advice on its website for householders, much of which focuses on long-term solutions that people can carry out for themselves.

In Scotland there is little prospect of eradication at present. Our strategy is to use public funds, where appropriate, to control the plant in priority areas and to encourage landowners or householders to tackle the issue by providing them with good advice on control methods.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

It may surprise the minister that many of my constituents have Japanese knotweed growing on land around their properties. Unchecked, it has the potential to cause serious damage. In many cases, the situation is that the minute Japanese knotweed appears, no one seems to own the land where it is growing. Should the owner of the land on which the Japanese knotweed is growing have to deal with the weed before it causes serious damage to private property?

Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

I have great sympathy for those whose property is being affected by Japanese knotweed. I acknowledge that it can damage property, although I caution that some of the stories of its destructive force appear to be a bit exaggerated. The Great Britain non-native species secretariat, for example, has no evidence that the plant has ever been recorded growing through concrete—a claim that seems to be a favourite in some parts of the press.

It is important to know that Japanese knotweed can be controlled. Advice is available and there are companies that provide that service. There may also be recourse in the courts for people whose property is damaged by the weed spreading on to it from elsewhere. However, it is not practical or reasonable to expect every landowner in Scotland to clear their land of Japanese knotweed. That would be extremely costly and it would be unlikely that they could eradicate it.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The minister might be aware that mortgage lenders have refused to lend on the basis that Japanese knotweed is in the vicinity of certain houses. Local authorities have no powers of enforcement, so they leave the matter to the landowner. Should that change and should we give local authorities the power to enforce eradication?

Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

The Council of Mortgage Lenders website states:

“Lenders determine their individual policies on this issue and take into account a range of factors when considering whether to lend.”

I have no reason to believe that that is not an accurate representation.

Some contractors can offer guarantees that some lenders will accept but, ultimately, lenders determine their own policies. Entering into a dialogue with them about the assurances that they will accept is the way to find a solution.

To make sure that we are taking a sensible approach, I have asked the Scottish biodiversity committee to prioritise the species on which we need to take action. Japanese knotweed is being assessed alongside other plants that we might have concerns about, such as giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam.

I cannot emphasise enough the fact that we need to be a lot more organised and strategic in dealing with such problems. We cannot afford to carry out control measures when the effort will be wasted. I am confident that prioritisation will help us to take such an approach.