I am just taking some time out of a busy summer to give you a roundup of what’s happening in the wider industry (that’s “roundup” as in a summary; not glyphosate as in RoundUp … for a change!).
Here at Invasive Weed Solutions Ltd (IWSL), we have been really busy this year, carrying out large numbers of new small-scale remediation projects – which tells us the same thing that our front-line staff are seeing both on the ground and in conversations with prospective clients, which is that invasive weeds are becoming increasingly recognised as a problem and, as well as the large-scale developers for whom Japanese knotweed has been on the radar for a long time, we’re now also seeing a lot of homeowners, landowners and other smaller stakeholders who are educating themselves about the wider variety of plants which cause problems in both the built environment and in terms of UK biodiversity and other environmental impacts (like contributing to soil erosion).
This means that rather than just the usual suspects of Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and Giant hogweed, we are doing a lot more work with a much wider variety of the invasive plant species covered by the Weeds Act 1959, those found on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and several other problem species which aren’t currently covered by any legislation.
EU List of Invasive Alien Species of Concern
Some seventeen new species have been added to the EU’s list of “species of concern” including thirteen new plant species. This list forms part of an EU regulation which requires members to control and take measures to prevent the establishment or spread of the species on the list. There is some overlap with the species on Schedule 9 of the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but the two pieces of legislation are separate.
Among the new plants added to the list are Ailanthus altissima or “tree of heaven” – an invasive species with many of the classic traits associated with other invasive species – a vigorous growth pattern, significant ability to self-replicate and the secretion of chemicals into the surrounding soil to deter competition (allelopathy).
The list also includes a couple of climbers, several trees, a couple of ferns including the aquatic Salvinia molesta and a number of grass species, including the North American native Andropogon virginicus which was supposedly introduced to Australia through its use as a packaging material for US whiskey.
Amenity Forum is a trade body for companies (and traders) involved in the amenity sector. Its members include herbicides suppliers, manufacturers and end-users, and contributors to the Forum include educational bodies City and Guilds and Lantra, CRD (the Chemical Regulations Directorate – part of the HSE) and BASIS (see below if you don’t know who they are).
Amenity Forum promote best-practice in the application of plant protection products through UK-wide updating events, a comprehensive media strategy including the Get Moving! campaign and incentives such as the Spray Operator of the Year competition (open to any professional technician in the UK).
Amenity Forum are currently pushing stakeholders across the UK to increase compliance with sprayer testing, which is a legal responsibility under the Plant Protection Procuts (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. Extensive campaigns ahead of the first year of testing managed to inform operators in the amenity sector of the need for testing, and take-up was relatively high, but testing rates have recently fallen off. More information is needed on whether this is due to replacement of older equipment, or waning interest in the testing scheme – or whether, in the worst case, this is wilful disregarding of the legal requirements based on a lack or perceived enforcement, sanctions or simply a desire (or need) to cut costs.
Top of the Amenity Forum’s priorities at the moment are three key objectives, including promoting awareness and best practice of- and in the industry and developing and encouraging integrated management approaches (those that minimise the use of pesticides) as outlined in the UK National Action Plan.
The third major priority is the introduction of a sector-wide assurance scheme – an independent standard for all areas of the sector, whether it is parks, highways, sports turf or any of the other areas. This “umbrella scheme” aims to provide a benchmark for companies and scheme operators working in the Amenity sector and a blueprint for quality assurance and auditing of amenity contractors.
Invasive Weed Solutions support the introduction of the standard and welcome the move to bring more contractors into the fold, where we as an industry can be seen to meet the highest standard of best practice, safety and quality assurance.
BASIS is the UK body responsible for setting standards and auditing within the crop protection, amenity and related industries and also provides training and extensive CPD.
BASIS offers a range of qualifications, including the legally-required qualification for pesticides advisors (BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection) and courses for pesticide storekeepers (Nominated Storekeepers – or “NSK’s”), courses in pest control, fertiliser and drone technology as well as other entry-level courses all the way up to advanced level courses including the BASIS Diploma in Agronomy.
BASIS inspects pesticide stores annually, and the store that Invasive Weed Solutions keep our pesticides in was recently found fully-compliant, with no areas for improvement – which is a good result for me, given it’s me who shows the auditor round!
I also represent Storekeepers on the BASIS Membership Committee, having been appointed to the committee at the beginning of 2019. This Committee, with its independent chairman, represents the interests of BASIS members from all categories and reports directly to BASIS. I am open to all submissions on the subject of storekeeping or general BASIS membership issues and would welcome input from anyone with an interest in the sector.
As part of this role, I was recently invited to attend a meeting of the AIC (Agricultural Industries Confederation), a trade association representing agricultural suppliers which has over 250 members. AIC run a number of sector assurance schemes and registers for suppliers of animal feeds, fertilisers, seeds, grains, crop protection and agronomy and suppliers to the biofuels industry. It was great to see the high levels of standards which are implemented in agriculture, and gives me great confidence that by working together over the coming years, the invasive species industry can bring the majority of our contractors up to the high standards which many of us already operate to.
Part of this solution is going to be the BASIS umbrella standard, and a large part will be implemented by industry trade bodies.
INNSA is a trade body exclusively for the invasive species sector, whose members offer remediation of Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, buddleia, rhododendron, Equisetum species and many others, as well as aquatic invasive species such as curly waterweed, parrot’s feather, Crassula helmsii (New Zealand pygmyweed) and others.
Naturally, Invasive Weed Solutions is a member of INNSA and supports the aims of INNSA, and I contribute regularly to the orgnisation’s Steering Group meetings as well as contributing on technical issues (including extensive input on the INNSA Code of Practice).
For over seven years, INNSA’s Steering Group has been meeting to drive up standards within the industry and meeting with industry stakeholders such as the Council of Mortgage Lenders, RICS, Building Societies Association, as well as working with insurers to ensure that the insurance protection which mortgage lenders require is available to INNSA Members’ customers.
INNSA released the Code of Practice: Managing Japanese Knotweed in 2017 and this is now available free-of-charge in electronic format on the INNSA website.
The Property Care Association is a long-established trade body which expanded its membership to include invasive weed control contractors in 2012. Invasive Weed Solutions are a full member of the PCA, and, just as with INNSA, we support their goals to improve standards within the industry and to represent the best interests of their membership.
The PCA’s large membership allows it to deploy significant resources in making representations for its members in the media, to government, DEFRA and to the general public, supporting initiatives and best practice in the industry.
The PCA also offers its own in-house training for Japanese knotweed surveyors, so all the staff who carry out surveys on behalf of Invasive Weed Solutions have a specific qualification relevant to the work they carry out.
The PCA recently appeared before the UK government’s Science and Technology Committee’s enquiry into Japanese knotweed in the built environment, making a strong case for the special treatment of problem plant – not simply on the grounds of the damage it can cause, which is similar to many other plant species, but on the grounds that this damage is caused by a plant which is so difficult to get rid of.
The evidence presented to the committee was generally clear, but it seems to me that there is still some significant lack of understanding, at government level, of the nature of the problem faced by homeowners and mortgage lenders with respect to this particular invasive plant – and the good reasons why there is a strong industry in the UK (and developing industries around Europe and elsewhere) of invasive non-native species specialists.