If you are the owner of a property that is affected by Japanese knotweed, you have a legal responsibility to ensure that this does not encroach onto your neighbour's land. If you fail to prevent the spread of the plant, then you could be issued with a community protection order, demanding that you eradicate the knotweed on your neighbour's property. If you do not adhere to this, you could risk a heavy fine, as Network Rail have found out.
For more information on what Japanese knotweed is, the risks it poses and how it can be treated, see Should I Buy a House with Japanese Knotweed?
Japanese Knotweed Claim against Network Rail
Two neighbours, Stephen Williams and Robin Waistell, have taken action against Network Rail for allowing Japanese knotweed to spread onto their properties. The pair own adjoining semi-detached bungalows in South Wales, which neighbour onto land owned by Network Rail.
There is Japanese knotweed present on Network Rail's land, which Network Rail has failed to prevent from spreading onto the properties of Mr Williams and Mr Waistell. The pair have argued that the presence of the plant on their properties has interfered with their enjoyment of their own land and has reduced the market value of their homes.
In a Court hearing last year, the Judge ruled against Network Rail, agreeing that the company had failed in its duty, consequently causing damage to the neighbouring properties and reducing the amenity value of the land, as well as causing a continuing nuisance. Network Rail was ordered to pay damages to the two homeowners.
Network Rail appealed this decision, taking the matter to the Court of Appeal. However, the original ruling has been upheld.
Some predict that this could now open the way for more claims to be made against Network Rail by other homeowners who have been affected by encroaching Japanese knotweed.
How Does Japanese Knotweed Spread?
The roots of Japanese knotweed can run down to 7ft below the surface, making it incredibly difficult to dig up. From these roots, underground stems can shoot, which are called rhizomes. These shoots continue to grow horizontally under the ground, putting out their own roots at intervals.
Because of the way in which the rhizomes grow, Japanese knotweed can continue to grow from very small fragments of the plant. This means that it can spread exceptionally quickly, spreading under fences and even making its way under the foundations of buildings.
Mowing or strimming the plant can also cause it to spread, as fragments can be thrown into the air to land further from the main weed or even over the neighbour's fence!
Because of the resilience of Japanese knotweed, it's classified as 'controlled waste' under the Environmental Protection Act. This means that it's illegal for the plant to be disposed of in regular landfill, with garden waste or in the wild, as it's highly likely that parts of the plant would take root and come back to life. Instead, it must be disposed of properly at a licenced landfill site.
Treating Japanese Knotweed
Japanese knotweed can be treated but as it's so resilient, effective eradication usually requires strong chemicals and repeated treatments are likely be needed.
Digging the plant up is an option, but as the roots penetrate so deep it's unlikely that the whole plant will have been removed so it will almost certainly reappear.
You can instruct professionals to treat and dispose of the plant for you, which is likely to be the most effective option, but be aware that a professional Japanese knotweed management plan could cost thousands of pounds. However, the cost of doing nothing or trying, ineffectively, to destroy the plant yourself could cost you much more.