The science behind the plants

Phillip Rustedin Consultancy

Rusted-Knotweed3.jpgOver the last year I have been writing and discussing the problems encountered with a wide range of invasive species that are now prevalent in the UK. As we are all aware, climate change will lead to the introduction of new species which may, or may not, become invasive and may, or may not, pose problems for us all in our day to day working lives.

There are concerns globally about invasive species and a large amount of time and money is being spent not only on their prevention but also on the research into the routes used for entry and the methods for containment. Currently it is estimated that the cost of invasive species to the US economy is in excess of $100,000,000,000 and to the UK economy £2,000,000,000.

These costs are vast and, although I am not sure how the estimates were made, they are from the respective governments and therefore must have some fact behind them.

Of all of the invasive species in the UK, the Environment Agency have listed Japanese Knotweed as the worst. It is hard to quantify the cost of Japanese Knotweed to the economy, the cost of companies working with it, the cost to developers dealing with the problem, government agencies working and researching it as well as the universities and forums nationally.

Despite all of this there is actually very little known about Japanese Knotweed.

There have, to date, been very few studies done to actually examine the cytology of the rhizome - the part of the plant that creates the damage. There has been very little research undertaken into the methods and modes of transportation for nutrients through the plants rhizome system, dormancy and treatment methods.

Or so it would appear.rusted-Knotweed2.jpg

Universities working on Japanese Knotweed in the UK include Loughborough, Leicester, Exeter and Birmingham. Davis College in the USA has undertaken a large amount of work, and then there are the agencies such as The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, The Environment Agency, Defra, CABI Bioscience, Cornwall Knotweed Forum and the like.

More recently has been the introduction of private companies undertaking research. ,Personally I have two full time scientists and a part time botanist working exclusively on unravelling the knot that is Japanese Knotweed and I am aware of at least two other specialist treatment companies in the UK with similar research schemes.

With all this research being undertaken in the UK, Europe and the USA, surely we should be at the point of understanding fully the plant. At the end of the day it is only a plant not an alien. However, Japanese Knotweed does seem to be rather individual in its design and unpredictable in its growth habit.
Where is all this research going to lead us? I would hope that the answer will be in more environmentally friendly treatment methods and a realistic chance to stem the spread of this problematic plant.

The reality I feel will be somewhat different. Each organisation has its own reasons and goals for its individual research and it all comes down to commercial advantage and market exploitation. With a global market of such a size as this there is little choice.

rusted-Knotweed1.jpgThe following of market trends is also of interest and seems to fly in an opposite direction to that of the research. Currently in fashion is the stem injection method. An environmentally safe method of treatment with no collateral damage to surrounding vegetation. Applying dose rates up to 400 times that recommended by the Pesticide Safety Directorate cannot be sustainable nor environmentally friendly, but may be an indication toward a new method of treatment.

With the EU getting ever more stringent on pesticide usage, and the potential for it all to be banned in a seemingly draconian knee jerk reaction, we have the potential to be overrun with invasives with little to defend ourselves other than a lot of hard manual work and, with that, the subsequent cost implications.

As an industry we need to cooperate and accumulate research for the benefit of all. It is for this reason that the National Invasive Weeds Federation has been formed and, although currently in its seedling stage (excuse the pun), it is hoped that this will grow and develop to become a forum for information exchange and education without the constrictions of commercial sensitivity. The way to ensure this is to invite the commercial companies en masse and allow for progression of ideas and development of new and innovative methodologies.

A pipe dream it may sound but, ultimately, we need to implement ideas that will benefit us all, not just for short term gain but also for the future.

For further information and assistance please don't hesitate to contact Philip Rusted MI Hort, Director of Research and Development, tcm(r&d) -

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