Video: How to Control Japanese Knotweed (with science!)

April 9th, 2014

The embedded video, below, provides a useful introduction to the problems that Japanese knotweed can cause on landowners’ property. However, its main purpose is to introduce the BBSRC-funded research that Phlorum is undertaking in partnership with Sussex University. This aims to identify a novel chemical control mechanism to inhibit respiration in the mitochondria of knotweed’s cells. The mitochondria are the microscopic ‘batteries’ that power Japanese knotweed’s incredibly rapid growth.

Currently approved herbicides have a general effect on photosynthesis or cell expansion of knotweed and other dicotyledonous plants. It is hoped that the team’s research will enable a product to be tailored to control Japanese knotweed alone, leaving other plants unaffected.

The work is allied with Professor Anthony Moore’s ongoing development of a similar respiratory chain inhibitor that has proven to be effective against the ash dieback fungus, Chalara fraxinea.

Japanese Knotweed control news – April 2014

April 8th, 2014

New Japanese knotweed shootsHardly a month goes by without Japanese Knotweed control being in the news. It’s headline-grabbing stuff with its invasive nature, impressive persistence and horribly destructive habits.

Japanese knotweed tragedy

This week a particularly distressing inquest heard about a troubled man who had murdered his wife after becoming paranoid about Japanese knotweed growing on a golf course near their home. He then killed himself. His suicide note said he’d acted because the balance of his mind had been disturbed by knotweed near the couple’s West Midlands home. Having tried and failed to curb the plant’s growth, the man’s fear of the structural damage the plant can cause led to his “growing madness”.

It’s a terrible tragedy, involving a clearly disturbed mind, but it does illustrate how significant the issue of knotweed can appear to some people. Exaggerated stories in the press on the effects of Japanese knotweed on property do not help. With this in mind, it was an aim of the recent RICS guidance to set the record straight and allay home-owners’ unfounded fears about the level of devastation knotweed could lay upon their properties. The RICS paper and the code of practice from the PCA that was allied with it, have demonstrated that Japanese knotweed control is rarely so problematic that it can cause substantial devaluation of property.

Knotweed only recognised by 44% of gardeners

At the same time, a recent piece of research claims only 44% of gardeners would recognise Japanese knotweed if it turned up in their garden. The study was carried out by the online garden retailer Gardening Express, which was shocked at the results. It appears knotweed, while famously destructive and able to overwhelm other plants, damage concrete and buildings in a very short space of time, isn’t widely recognised. And it’s about time gardeners wised up.

Gardening Express quizzed 600 customers, asking them to identify photos of ten plants and decide whether they were a weed or a flower. Apparently 56% of those surveyed said if the plant turned up in their garden they would probably welcome it. While Japanese knotweed is a serious threat and a frighteningly impressive adversary, it actually looks very beautiful with its creamy flowers and shield-shaped leaves. But the plant is such a pariah that some mortgage lenders have refused loans on homes where the weed raises its not-so-ugly head. Selling a home that’s suffering a knotweed infestation can therefore require additional surveys and professional treatments, which a lender should now be aware of (thanks to the RICS guidance and the PCA Invasive Weeds group).

How to spot Japanese knotweed early

So how to you recognise the early signs? There is some useful information on our knotweed identification page. Small, red-purple shoots, and bright pink crown-bud ‘thumbs’ appear in early spring. These quickly grow into large, hollow, asparagus-like spears before developing into mature, bamboo-like stems with attractive purple speckles in early summer. In winter, large patches of growth persist as straw-coloured ‘bamboo’ canes, which can often make them easier to spot than other vegetation, which dies back at this time of year.

What about Japanese knotweed control?

For domestic properties, often the most effective treatment is the use of approved weedkillers, applied by licensed operators. However, these usually need to be applied over several years. Some home-owners have attempted knotweed control themselves, with weaker chemicals available over the counter.

If you fancy having a go yourself, remember that your work will not be recognised by a mortgage lender, which could affect your ability to sell your property, or the ability of your neighbours to sell theirs. The latter situation could result in litigation as your neighbours seek to redress the nuisance issues you might have caused them. In any case, if you don’t do a 100% perfect job, the knotweed will come back. It’s far better to get the professionals on the case, save yourself all sorts of hassle and minimise the stress.

And what about Japanese knotweed removal costs? It might surprise you – in a good way. Get in touch for a reasonable quote for getting rid of it once and for all, safely, legally and professionally.

Examining sustainability in the construction industry: Interview Invitation

April 7th, 2014

Sustainable buildings flyerPhlorum and the University of Liverpool are researching the development of sustainability in the construction industry, with a specific focus on total CO2 lifecycle emissions. To identify key issues in the industry surrounding CO2 calculation we will be conducting a series of Interviews. These Interviews aim to examine the issues that key thought leaders within the industry feel are most important in the development of low carbon buildings. This research will not only deal with the science behind LCA tools, but also the human decisions which may inhibit the development of such products in the industry. Looking at LCA calculation from a human centred supply chain perspective is a critical part of this research.

The interviews aim to clarify the main problems faced regarding sustainability and CO2 lifecycle analysis. Although some specific questions will be posed the interview will take on a semi-structured format, and discussions will be encouraged to go beyond the set themes.

Themes covered will include but will not be limited to

  1. Key drivers that are helping or hindering the progress towards a low total carbon construction industry
  2. Sustainability successes and failures
  3. Technological and cultural barriers to the successful implementation of lifecycle impact technology

We are currently looking for participants to take part in interviews over the coming months. An executive report based on the results of all interviews will be combined, published and shared with professionals in the industry and those who took part in the interviews. We need people from public and private sectors who are involved in the construction supply chain, sustainability consultancy or carbon calculations to take part in these sessions. If you would like to take part in this research or would like further information, please contact Emily Jervis.

We would like to inform all prospective interviewees that at no time will their identity be used in any of the research; participant anonymity is treated very seriously by the university.

Email: Emily.Jervis@liverpool.ac.uk

Great News for Whales!

April 4th, 2014

Whale tailThe International Court of Justice in Gland, Switzerland, ruled on 31st March that Japan should immediately cease all whaling activities under its current ‘scientific’ programme: JARPA II.

The court ruled that Japan’s programme was not designed to reach its stated objectives and that the special permits granted by Japan in connection to its whaling in the Southern Ocean were not for scientific research.

As a result of the ruling, the Japanese government must end all whaling in the Southern Ocean. The court’s decision is binding and cannot be appealed.

The decision is a major victory for whale protection efforts. The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica was declared a whale sanctuary in 1994 following the ban on commercial whaling in 1986 but despite this, Japan has hunted over 10,000 whales in the Southern Ocean since the ban was put in place.

More information can be found here.

Air pollution solutions help meet UK air quality standards

April 2nd, 2014

Air pollution maskAs air quality consultants we know air pollution is nothing new. The Romans complained bitterly about the polluted air in their cities, a horrid combination of wood smoke and untreated sewage. And in pre-Bazalgette London the stink of human waste dumped in the Thames became so bad that the government had to temporarily abandon the Houses of Parliament (lime-soaked curtains were also installed in windows facing the Thames). However, probably the most famous historic text is Fumifugium, or, to give it its full title: ‘The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated Together with Some Remedies Humbly Proposed by J.E. Esq. to his Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled’, which was published in 1661 by John Evelyn. This is one of the earliest texts ever written on the subject of air pollution.

Bringing things up to date, the latest report from the World Health Organisation reveals seven million people died from air pollution in 2012. And the American Lung Association* reports that while the air over there is slowly getting cleaner, more than 50% of the US population still breathe air “dirty enough to cause health problems”.

The problem hasn’t gone away. Quite the contrary. So how is air pollution defined in a contemporary context, and what are the powers that be doing about it?

Classifying air pollution

Primary pollutants are those that are emitted directly to the air from human and natural sources. Secondary pollutants are created by chemical reactions between them and each other; things like low-level ozone and city smog. Even clean air contains all sorts of natural pollutants like dust, fine salt particles, harmful gases, pollen, ash and smoke from wildfires.

Air pollution affects people indoors, too. Sometimes the air indoors is much worse than outdoors, tainted with things like compounds leaking from new carpets and furnishings, fumes from paint, dust from building materials and volatile compounds from cooking. Because modern buildings have to comply with strict insulation guidelines, professional assessment of air quality and good indoor ventilation are piping hot topics.

So far there are more natural pollutants around than man-made ones, and we’ve evolved to cope very well with most of them. But as climate change rumbles on, effective air pollution solutions are more important than ever. It’s no surprise our air quality assessment services are in demand.

What is the UK air quality strategy?

Britain’s Air Quality Strategy drives the nation’s air quality standards. Pollution concentrations are measured over time, identifying acceptable levels based on what is known about the effects of each substance on our health and the environment. The standards act as a benchmark to help identify improvements and worsening air pollution levels.

  • Part 4 of The Environment Act 1995 protects air quality in Britain and drives Local Air Quality Management (LAQM)
  • The Air Quality (Standards) Regulations 2010 deal with ambient air quality. There are equivalent regulations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all responsible for their own air quality legislation
  • The Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 set national objectives for English local authorities
  • The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002 are the UK’s version of the EC’s National Emission Ceilings Directive
  • The Environment Agency regulates pollutant release from big and complicated industrial processes including large-scale food processing, pig and poultry rearing
  • The Environment Agency also works with local authorities, the Highways Agency and others to manage the government’s Air Quality Strategy in England and Wales

With so many regulations to follow and standards to meet from different official bodies, you need professional air quality consultants on the case, to produce an air quality assessment that conforms with all the requirements. That’s where we come in, whether you’re building a factory and need predictive dispersion modelling assessments or are simply building a single dwelling.

UK Government uses Japanese Knotweed to Sequester CO2 Emissions

April 1st, 2014
Japanese knotweed field

Field edge of experimental plot of Japanese knotweed.

****UPDATE! – ANOTHER APRIL FOOLS’ POST – DID WE CATCH YOU OUT?****

Research funded by the UK Government has identified that cultivated Japanese knotweed is a highly effective and natural system for reversing the effects of climate change via phytological carbon sequestration.

At current fossil fuel consumption rates the UK will fail to meet its challenging international and domestic carbon reduction targets. A large scale switch to renewable energy is not, realistically, on the cards and will not, therefore, be the panacea some think it might be.

The most optimistic projections see the UK hedging its bets on natural gas, which is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, to satisfy energy demands until low carbon and renewable technologies take over. However, natural gas can only ever be a stop-gap towards a low-carbon economy as, although relatively free of contaminants, burning it releases atmospheric carbon that would otherwise be safely locked up in the planet’s geology. Current predictions indicate that we have just 10 years before the natural gas ‘stop-gap’ becomes an overflowing, irreversible haemorrhage of CO2  into the earth’s atmosphere.

However, if we use this stop-gap to get our act together in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technologies to buffer and ultimately reverse carbon emissions, the ‘climate change’ future looks much more manageable.

This is where phytological carbon sequestration technologies come in. Natural gas can continue to be an efficient, clean source of energy, if the geological carbon can again be locked up or circulated in the carbon cycle. Plants actively absorb CO2 and convert it into biomass. Therefore, planting large numbers of a species with particularly high rates of photosynthesis will result in potentially massive sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere.

Japanese knotweed’s incredibly vigorous growth rate and invasive nature makes it a very hungry plant. It can absorb CO2 at a rate unmatched by most other plant species. It is on the basis of these facts that the UK Government, through the Biomass Energy Research Council, has initiated field trials at three sites near Liverpool. Preliminary results show that carbon sequestration rates in fields of Japanese knotweed could extend the natural gas ‘stop-gap’ so that gas-fired power stations could balance their CO2 emissions to a net emission rate of zero.

Current data suggest that as little as 1 hectare of knotweed per 50Megawatts of thermal output would be needed to effectively sequester a power station’s CO2 emissions. Obviously, many hectares of knotweed would still be needed to sequester the total CO2 emitted at today’s energy consumption rates. But as the UK is increasingly producing less food, many hundreds of farms across the country could be diverted from agriculture to phytological sequestration.

There are some concerns that fields of knotweed could compromise the security of native biodiversity. However, as companies like Phlorum continue to add to the understanding of how to effectively manage this invasive weed, such problems are considered manageable.

The research is ongoing, but the results are already extremely promising.

Japanese knotweed added to Kentucky’s Invasive Herbaceous Species list

March 28th, 2014

In the state of Kentucky in the United States, dual bills have increased the listed number of noxious weeds and invasive herbaceous plant species.

The Department of Highways shall keep all state right-of-ways free of noxious-weeds. The species included in this list include the species of grass, Sorghum halepense, and the species of weed commonly known as giant foxtail, both of which are classed as noxious weeds, and the thistles Cirsium arvense and Carduus nutans, multiflora rose, wild cucumber, and black nightshade.

On written request the department shall give priority to any adjoining property owner engaged in a program of eradication of Johnson grass, giant foxtail, Canada thistles, nodding thistles, multiflora rose, kudzu, wild cucumber, and black nightshade; and shall cooperate with the adjoining owner by eradicating the Johnson grass, giant foxtail, Canada thistles, nodding thistles, multiflorarose, kudzu, wild cucumber, and black nightshade from the state’s right-of-ways. The department shall take steps to eradicate this grass and these weeds or thistles by the use of chemicals or any other means found to be effective by the department.

Under the bills, Japanese knotweed, marestail, poison hemlock, amure honeysuckle, kudzu and common teasel will all be added to the state’s list of invasive herbaceous species. Two Democrats supporting the bill are Sen. Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown and Rep. Rita Smart of Richmond.

The plants that have been removed from the list include black nightshade, wild cucumber, giant foxtail, and nodding plumeless thistle.

Both of these bills were passed by their committees on unanimous votes. The bills now move to their respective chambers for further deliberation by the General Assembly.

A shot in the dark…

March 28th, 2014

Earth Hour

Earth Hour is an event that enables millions of people from across the world to come together in a symbolic and spectacular light outs display, turning their lights off for an hour on 29th March at 20.30 to raise awareness for the planet.

Organised by WWF, it first started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and since then it has grown to engage more than 7,000 cities and towns worldwide, and the one-hour event continues to remain the key driver of the now larger movement. You can register to take part in Earth Hour here.

This year, 154 countries are taking part and UK landmarks including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London, Brighton Pier and Edinburgh Castle will all be turning lights off for Earth Hour.

Air quality consultants report an increasing focus on air pollution

March 26th, 2014

air quality consultantAs air quality consultants we’re fascinated to see the steady, inexorable increase in the profile of air quality as pollution causes an increasing number and variety of problems across the world. Here are just a few recent news items that, together, paint a troubling picture of the state of the air that many of us breathe.

Paris car ban air quality woes

Air quality testing is in the news again as pollution in Paris led to a car ban which ground the city to a halt. China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip.com, has just launched a new travel insurance product for tourists, who can now claim for trips ruined by air pollution. At the same time eighteen City-based organisations including Land Securities, Pret a Manger and The Barbican Centre have committed to tackling air pollution in London’s famous Square Mile.

Scotland’s fresh air under threat

Scientists in Edinburgh are bringing hi-tech backpacks into play in an effort to quantify and study personal exposure to air pollution. And a prominent Labour MSP has highlighted how:

“poor air quality is a daily experience for too many people in Scotland”.

Smog damages international executive recruitment

Back to China… according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, China’s infamous smog is putting top foreign executives off working in the country, highlighting how air pollution is damaging international recruitment. And in the EU, the European Environment Bureau claims air pollution reductions proposed by member states are ‘regrettably low’, and that member states have been given too long to meet them.

Some London air pollution levels are double the legal limit

London Liberal Democrat politicians claim existing measures to protect school children from air pollution are not working, after surveying the capital’s 935 schools that sit within 150m of a busy road. Another piece of research reveals air pollution levels are reaching almost double the legal limit in some areas of Highgate, London. And it appears the weirdly warm spring weather might trigger smog alerts in our biggest cities.

Bringing more fresh air indoors

Poor air quality has an impact indoors, too, especially in new buildings which have to comply with stringent insulation regulations. It’s a good thing in many ways, but effective insulation often used to mean very poor ventilation and next to no air flow. Part F of the building regulations has been created to deal with the issue, laying down the law about air exchange rates and air quality reports. If, like us, you’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of companies offering Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery systems, you’re not alone. Some say it’s an industry right on the tipping point of a boom.

What does the future hold? Watch this space. Only two things are certain: air quality issues are not going to go away… and we’re likely to be very busy indeed.

Do you need expert air quality consultants?

We help businesses comply with their legal air quality obligations and carry out Environmental Impact Assessments in relation to a wide range of transport, industrial and construction emissions. This is all in line with the objectives of the UK Air Quality Strategy and other appropriate standards for the other countries in which we regularly work (e.g. Africa and the Middle East). We also offer expert odour assessments and assess occupational exposure to air pollutants. If you’d like to know more, please contact us.

Japanese Knotweed Removal – a knotty problem!

March 21st, 2014

Giant knotweedIt’s actually beautiful stuff. But Fallopia japonica, AKA the dreaded Japanese knotweed, a perennial in the Polygonaceae family, is a monster and powerfully destructive. A relative of Giant Knotweed and Himalayan Knotweed (which are also covered by the same legislation to prevent their spread), it was brought to Britain in the 1800s as an ornamental plant and while it is dramatically attractive, it has taken hold in all sorts of places where it isn’t welcome.

Japanese knotweed is bigger, stronger and faster-growing than many native plants and upsets the delicate balance between our local creatures and the environment they live in. Because it’s a long way from the place it evolved, it doesn’t have any native predators. Nothing eats it, nothing digs it up, nothing naturally halts its relentless spread.

The plant spreads via underground stems called rhizomes, which make it even more of a challenge to control and get rid of. It pushes beneath tarmac and concrete, walls and drains, damaging our infrastructure. All it takes is ten days for a tiny centimetre long fragment of rhizome to turn into a thriving plant, and, anecdotally, the fragments can remain dormant in the soil for two decades and still produce viable plants.

The legal side of knotweed removal

In short, it’s no joke. In fact, the problem is so acute that it’s actually been written into the law of the land. In the words of The Environment Agency:

“The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is an offence to plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild any plant listed in Schedule nine, Part II of the Act. This lists over 30 plants including Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and parrot’s feather. The police are responsible for investigating this offence and each police force has a wildlife liaison officer who can be contacted.”

  • It is illegal to plant Japanese knotweed or cause it to grow in the wild
  • It isn’t illegal simply to have it growing on your land… although it might drive you to distraction!
  • If it escapes from your land and starts growing elsewhere, you might be legally liable
  • It is classified as controlled waste
  • You can’t just dump it in your domestic green recycling
  • Only licensed landfill sites can take it, as long as you give them notice and get the right waste transfer documents

Removing knotweed – A job best left for experts

How to get rid of Japanese knotweed? You can do it yourself. But there are so many regulations around its removal and the way the remains must be destroyed that it’s usually best to call in the professionals. Someone who knows their onions will:

  • Have proper National Proficiency Tests Council (NPTC) certification
  • Remove the plants plus every tiny scrap of rhizome
  • Take proper precautions to make sure it doesn’t come back
  • Make sure it doesn’t spread to other areas
  • Dispose of it properly, taking the debris away with them
  • Get the permissions needed to use herbicides near watercourses
  • Know about local authority collection services and commercial waste facilities that accept knotweed waste

Get a Japanese knotweed survey

What’s the extent of your problem? We undertake surveys and site inspections as well as giving advice about control and management and actually removing the knotweed stuff for you. Our team are all appropriately licensed, highly qualified Japanese knotweed removers (most have a Master’s degree in a related discipline) and are members of a range of professional bodies including the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, the Property Care Association Invasive Weeds Control Group and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. We’re fully trained on an ongoing basis in the best ways to remove this and other pernicious weeds. And, of course, we’re fully insured and can provide industry-topping insurance-backed guarantees and collateral warranties. Any questions? Just ask.