Rabbits and Sycamore Trees February 24, 2016

Rabbits and sycamore trees …what’s the connection?

Most of you will have got the link – they are both ‘alien’ species which shouldn’t really be in this country. From a botanical perspective Sycamore is a native of central, eastern and southern Europe and in theory – NOT  a native of Britain. The sycamore has been present in Britain since at least the Bronze Age – old native names suggest that it was introduced around 1487 BC – however this has been challenged by Scottish names for the plant dating back to Gaelic times …which seem to suggest that it was present in Scotland before it became naturalised in England.

This would make it an archaeophyte (a naturalised tree introduced by humans before 1500) or perhaps a native; if it can be seen to have reached Scotland without human intervention.

It has been suggested that it could have been common up until Roman times when it went through a decline possibly brought about by climate change and human activities – surviving only in the mountains of Scotland – currently it is usually classed as a neophyte (a plant that is naturalised but arrived with humans on or after the year 1500.

The understood explanation of rabbits in the UK is that the Romans brought them along as a source of food and they simply spread like…rabbits.

The question then begins to raise its head as to what is …or isn’t…a ‘native species’…? When you go out for a walk around – say Chatsworth House – and appreciate the ‘typical’ English countryside do you ever stop to think … ‘hang on – all of this is actually man made’.

When you’re driving over the Snake Pass thinking about the dramatic scenery and wonderful rivers and reservoirs…do you ever pull over to admire the view but then remember that this is again ALL man made.

Man has had such huge influence over the landscape that very little remains of our ‘native vegetation’….so the next question that should be forming in your minds…? If we already live in an environment massively manipulated by human intervention should we really be worried about a few invasive non-native species?

Well this all comes down to the question of bio-diversity.

The likes of Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan balsam are real bully boys of the plant world – growing at great speed and suffocating anything that tries to stop them. The odd Horse chestnut or ornamental maple planted at Chatsworth may not be ‘native’ but at least they aren’t spreading like wildfire and pushing our native trees into oblivion.

This is a massive question and requires a more detailed answer and will be discussed in future blogs and more importantly, at our seminar in May at the Museum of Science and Industry.


Mike C.

The ‘Penny Dreadful’ novels February 18, 2016

Inspired by the Penny Dreadful novels of the Victorian era, JKSL have produced a limited edition run of our very own gripping fictional novels!

The ‘Penny Dreadful’ was a publishing phenomenon in the 19th Century as these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories became incredibly popular with the Victorian public. Penny dreadfuls (sometimes called “bloods” or “shilling shockers”) were astonishingly successful, creating a vast new readership. The “bloods” were inexpensive novels usually filled with violent adventure and issued in installments. Between 1830 and 1850 there were up to 100 publishers of penny-fiction.

At first the they copied popular cheap fiction’s love of late 18th-century gothic tales, the more sensational the better, creating worlds of murderous deeds, the study of poisonous, tales of monsters and evil and nefarious roués. The stories themselves were reprints, or sometimes rewrites, of Gothic thrillers and the illustrations were an essential element, as much an advertising tool as art.

JKSL will be issuing a Penny Dreadful for each Invasive Non Native Species into a library of essential reading.

Please note the tales are scary and are not meant to be read by children, the faint hearted, home owners or anybody living close to a railway line or river….

To sign up to receive your regular FREE instalment by post – please e mail [email protected] – and confirm that you are over 18 …

Problem? What problem….? February 17, 2016

When the scientists talk about Alien species doing ‘harm’ – what is it they are actually talking about? The 8th Convention on Biological Diversity asked for … action to…’prevent the introduction of those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species’.

What this implies is that for consideration a species must be new to the region (alien) and must threaten the native flora and fauna.

This is defined as causing ‘actual ecological harm’.

When I’m talking to people about Japanese Knotweed they often ask – why is it so problematic – then follow this up with … ‘Surely its spread is just part of global warming’ …or they think its just part of … ‘progress’…or… ‘evolution’…

One of the phrases that I hear repeated is that these alien species were all… ‘accidentally’ .. introduced however the truth is that many were deliberately planted. In America for example 85% of the woody species were introduced for horticultural purposes. Many of the grass species introduced to Australia for pasture became problematic whilst only 5% turned out to be useful.

The spread of Japanese Knotweed is partly due to its ability to grow from the smallest of fragments but it’s also to do with a more complex story. If every species that arrived on our shores behaved as Japanese Knotweed did… then we would be totally over-run.

So we must ask – why do certain plants become invasive and others don’t?

Only a fraction of the alien plants that land on our shores actually become established – and an even smaller fraction become a serious problem. There are a variety of reasons for this disparity in growth habit – alien species have evolved ‘somewhere else’ and have left behind all of the co-evolved species when they were moved to the British Isles. They have also left behind diseases and predators which would have kept their progress in check – so often they have a growth advantage over our native plants. Some species can cope with our climate whilst – others may struggle with higher or lower rainfall levels or temperature extremes.

There are also great debates about whether particular plant is causing a problem. It took many years for the issues with Japanese Knotweed to be recognised.

Generally, an invasive species that is expanding its range in new region and having negative impact is easily identified –

Impacts can include:

Species elimination

Water depletion

Crop damage

Forest damage

Fishery disruption

Navigation impediment

Clogging water works

Destruction of homes/gardens

Loss of grazing land

Given the impacts of alien species we have great motivation to alleviate the problem – however there are some basic problems in doing so – not least of which is that invasive species are self-replicating.

If one had to clean up an oil spill or example – complex though this is – once it’s cleaned up the work is done. With invasive species unless one manages the situation properly …the infestation will simply grow back. Invasive species can also adapt and evolve mechanisms to overcome control efforts. Once an invasive species integrates itself into an ecosystem its control becomes far more complex due to its interaction with other species.

‘Horizon planning’ is a new buzz word in the industry – meaning that we should be looking ahead and identifying future problems. It is a recognised fact that eliminating a species before it gets a foothold is far more cost effective that trying to eliminate an established plant…. The problem with this is being able to recognise when a plant becomes truly invasive. This is complicated further by ‘lag times’ – this being the length of time between when a plant becomes established and when it becomes invasive. Lag times can be many decades – or even centuries …making observation and reaction almost impossible.

One must also remember that there is some good news about alien species in that they serve as the foundation for our food production systems. If you think about our food supply – only about 20 plant species contribute to major food source …and pretty much all of these are grown far from their places of origin. These species have been moulded through selection and engineered to fit local conditions in the most productive manner possible.

Alien species have also been used by our Landscape Architects and garden designers over the years to ornamental purpose in our gardens, parks and stately homes.

So it’s not all bad news…


Penny Pinching February 10, 2016

My mum is 88 years old and doesn’t drive. She pretty much stopped driving about twenty years ago following an incident with a stationary lorry which she … ‘just didn’t see’. Whilst dad was still around this wasn’t a problem – as he did most of the driving anyway this didn’t impact much on the scheme of things.

However this has become more of an issue with dad no longer being around. You would think that mum would know all the Glossop taxi drivers on first name terms…but no…Taxi’s are not mums ‘thing’ ….why would she get taxis when she has two sons!

Actually let’s get this right:

Two sons

Two daughters in law

Four grand children

Two neighbour’s with cars

A mobile hairdresser with a car

Eight friends with cars

…and a cleaner with a car

…so mum has the whole transport thing covered. In case of a requirement she works her way down the list until someone consents and she gets her travel arrangements sorted.

Now you would also think that mum would be eternally grateful for this…but no…if the chosen ‘driver’ is not exactly on ‘time’…mother gets very worked up. ‘Where is Michael’….’what time do you call this’….’I’m going to be late for my coffee morning’….all phrases often heard coming from my wonderful mothers mouth.

A recent example of this manipulation goes as follows;


Mum has a dentist appointment.

Rings son who is unavailable

Rings son’s wife Pam who is unavailable

Rings second son (who lives in wales) – unavailable

Cleaner hears all this and pipes up – ‘I will take you Ruth’


So mother accepts this generous offer.

A few days later in conversation I asked her – ‘did you get a lift to the dentist mum?’ – she replies – ‘yes I did, the cleaner took me – it was a long appointment so he sat in the car and waited for me – I was in there for nearly two hours…then I got him to take me to Marks and Spencer so I could do my shopping whilst he waited for me in the car outside’…

‘Whoaaaah’…. I said…’how much did you pay him?’

Mums response …’£5’….’I didn’t have any change’

Now this to me is taking ‘being tight’ to ridiculous lengths. My darling mother is not short of a few bob but guards it with an almost biblical zealousness …

I sat and explained to her that a taxi would have cost at least a tenner and that the driver would not have waited for her. If you put in the cleaners hourly rate on top of the car and fuel she should at least have been giving him £20 if not more.


Bloody hell… I said I’m surprised he didn’t throw it back at you.

This to me is a prime example of how people do not appreciate time and money and the value of a service offered.

It’s not just my mother – she is just the tip of the ‘tight arse’ ice berg.

We have a client that asked us to visit a site in Liverpool recently to fix some timbers back onto a fence panel. We quoted £140 plus VAT which the client said was a ‘rip off’ and that he would do it himself rather than pay us to do the work (fine by me).

So what Mr Client would you charge for sending somebody from Manchester to Liverpool in a van with tools and equipment to fix a fence – ???

Maybe a fiver would be more in line with your thinking? Or maybe free of charge…as a gesture of gratitude for having even being asked?

All I’m asking is for people to think about the actual ‘cost’ of the service provided. We have overheads, we have training costs, we have health and safety, we have to do risk assessments and we have to provide PPE…all of this has to be paid for.

So yes £140 to nail a few panels together may seem like a lot of money – if we were on site doing something else and could just nip over and bang a few bits of wood together ….but that wasn’t the case.

And mother please …be a bit more generous with your cash…please!


Mike C

Funding…. What is left for the Environment February 8, 2016

Working for Natural England I became used to the annual ebbs and flows of environmental funding and watched as over the years the arena changed from that of plenty to that of none. Cuts to DEFRA’s budget have been highlighted in a recent article in The Guardian1 which suggests that cuts “equal 57% in real terms over the course of two parliaments”. These cuts are reflected in the budgets of the DEFRA family organisations, which have been continually slashed resulting in less money in the system year on year for important environmental work; looking forward, this trend looks set to continue.

At Natural England, with less money in the system, environmental projects have had to become more prioritised and outcome focused, quite often limiting projects to designated sites where they can contribute to often unrealistic organisational targets set by DEFRA. Even the limited funding streams that are left for priority sites may not be guaranteed, recently hearing that SSSI improvement, and Partnership and Innovation funds have been axed along with all of the planned in-year projects.

Other important environmental projects that 1) don’t hit (multiple) targets, or 2) are not on a ‘priority’ site, are left to the good will of staff, charities and voluntary sector – all of whom do a great job with limited resources. These sectors will have an ever increasing role in the future as government budgets dwindle.

So where does this leave us? The burden on the purse strings and strain on resources at Natural England (NE), Forestry Commission (FC) and Environment agency (EA) may be about to increase under DEFRA’s Species Control Provisions which were published for consultation 7th December 20152. The provisions will allow Secretary of State and the regulatory bodies listed above to take action against invasive non-native species, by issuing Species Control Orders to land owners forcing action by law.

It’s great that the Government is taking Invasive Non-native species (INNS) seriously, and so they must. A recent government strategy paper2 suggests that 10-15% of INNS in Great Britain cause significant adverse impacts, and estimates the economic impact to the UK at least £1.7 billion a year, with Japanese Knotweed making up £166 million of that. Impacts are not solely economic, these species have huge ecological impacts on our native fauna and flora; INNS prey on or out compete our native species and have the potential to spread disease.

So the importance of tacking Invasive non-native species in the UK is clear, actions will have economic, environmental and social benefits…but…and this is a big BUT…how is this going to be funded? Are we in the same position of trying to do more with less, and just how are just how are the regulatory body’s like Natural England going to cope when already under huge strain?


  1. Emma Howard (2015), “DEFRA hit by largest budget cuts of any UK government department, analysis shows” The Guardian 11th November.
  2. DEFRA (Dec 2015)
  3. DEFRA; The Scottish Government; Welsh Government. August 2015.”The Great British Non-Native Species Stratagy”

Stuart Morris
Surveyor – JKSL

Small Data February 8, 2016

I’m a fan of data. Ever since I learned how to make graphs on Excel at school, I have enjoyed playing about with spreadsheets and processing information.

It wasn’t long ago that I read this article about VisiCalc – the world’s first spreadsheet program.

From relatively humble beginnings, ‘Big data’ is all the rage nowadays, predicting all kinds of stuff like… I don’t know really… What temperature everyone’s central heating is at? What flavour of Pringles is most popular in Burnage? Exactly what time people start watching box sets on Sunday afternoon? Useful stuff like that.

Anyway, when I first arrived at Japanese Knotweed Solutions, one of the first things I did was to update our marketing statistics. What we had at the time was a lot of information, but not much ability to make sense of it. I worked through the data and produced a few key graphs which I could present to the directors on a weekly basis (many of them with £ signs).

This resulted in better understanding of seasonal variations in the business, better control of cash flow and crucially, an ability to identify which marketing expenses were bringing in trade, and which were not paying for themselves. This led to measurable improvements in the bottom line.

But data isn’t just about graphs and statistics.

I am very proud of Japanese Knotweed Solutions’ Job Tracking system, which I put in place in 2014.

This system has gradually been evolving new features and it now performs real-time monitoring of all of our site revisits to over 650 active sites, treatment reports for our clients and the status of every one of the thousands of sites we have treated over more than a decade. It also holds valuable data about insurance backed guarantees and Japanese knotweed treatments in different areas of the UK; growth patterns, application timings and treatment results. It basically tells our teams where to go, and when.

At some point in 2019, I predict it will become self-aware and try to nuke Japanese knotweed sites all over the country. But until then, it’s extremely useful.

I know that all sounds like a lot of confusing information, so here’s one very meaningful statistic:

I am very pleased to confirm that JKSL have visited every single one of our clients’ current sites over the 2015-16 season, including visits for winter clearance, as recommended in the EA Code of Practice

Chris Oliver
Operations Manager

Darwin Clough February 8, 2016

Can you even begin to imagine what Darwin went through when he was coming up with his book ‘Origin of the Species”…?

Here we have a man who has spent years studying plants and animals and is pretty sure that God …doesn’t exist. This theory produced at a time when anyone guilty of such thoughts could have been not only laughed at but possibly tried and executed for blasphemy!

Darwin wrote to colleague (Hooker) in 1844 stating that he was …’convinced – quite contrary to the opinion that I started with – that species are not (it is like confessing to a murder) immutable’  …

Like… ‘confessing to a murder’…!

Imagine how he must have felt?

He was straying from the scientific orthodoxy of his day. This as time when the prevailing view was that God created the word in six days – and that the way plants adapted to their environment was simply further proof of a devine masterplan. To challenge this was to challenge the very foundation of Victorian society. It was to challenge God himself…not something to be done lightly.

Darwin’s grandfather had been publicly ridiculed for his ‘evolutionist’ views – his father Robert had similar ideas but kept quiet to avoid trouble. Now Charles found himself forced by the scientific evidence to tread the same path of heresy. He did this with caution – in fact his theories were first outlined in 1838 but took a further five years before even hinting at it in his letter to Hooker in 1844. Fifteen more years passed before his publication of his theory in ‘Origin of Species’.

Darwin spent much of those fifteen years accumulating an unassailable mountain of evidence to prove his ideas.

Now…I’m not suggesting that I have anything in common with Darwin…but…I have spent the last fifteen years accumulating a hell of a lot of evidence that we have a problem with invasive non-native species in the UK. …it may not be ‘heresy’ but it seems that the ‘powers that be’ just will not listen to the issues that we have.

Maybe I need to write a book – and call it…. ‘Origin of the Invasive Non Native Species’…..



Mike C

Floody Hell…. February 3, 2016

Watching the news over the Christmas holidays I spotted some footage of an area that I recognised – the footbridge by Asda in Radcliffe. The clip showed the river rising and destroying the bridge whilst the gas main exploded sending a plume of flame up into the sky….dramatic stuff…

The bridge in question has been used by me for several years as part of my ‘weed walk’ when taking clients to show them invasive species actually in the ‘flesh’ so to speak rather than just on a slide or power-point presentation. When standing on the (now non-existent) bridge – one used to be able to see the whole spectrum of invasive species – Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam, ragwort, Rosebay willow herb ….and the odd self-seeded sycamore trying to get established.

The number of invasive species and the bridge collapsing are not simply …a coincidence – what we have here is a number of factors all collecting in a perfect storm of connected problems…

Himalayan balsam grows on the flood plain of the river – growing to the preclusion of our native species.

Japanese Knotweed grows unchecked along the bulk of the higher reaches of the banks.

Giant hogweed in-fills any area not covered by Japanese knotweed

Acer pseudoplatanus then crops up wherever it can …

So – with this perfect mix of invasive non-native species we get a series of issues during times of flood.

The floodwaters tend to rise over winter
The invasive plants on the river bank reduce capacity for flow
The Himalayan balsam within the flood area dies back over winter
The balsam does not have a root system capable of holding the soil together
The river bank collapses and Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed all fall into the watercourse
The overflows created by the Environment Agency are all protected by steel cages
The steel cages get blocked with debris and the overflows don’t work
The river continues to rise
The bridge collapses
…and repeat – year after year

Then on top of the above scenario we have fragments of viable Japanese knotweed floating off downstream ready to start growing wherever they land. Seeds of Himalayan balsam and seeds from Giant Hogweed all heading off downstream in their thousands ready to take over wherever they eventually settle…

This is a WAR people!

Be aware ….floods don’t just damage buildings and property…they damage our ecosystems and our environment. It’s easy to see damage to carpets and to soft furnishings ….it’s far more difficult to prioritise dealing with new weed growth in areas severely hit by flooding. Treating this new growth in its early stages of development will be far more economical than trying to sort these issues once they are established.

Following treatment in these areas we need to be then making sure that NATIVE species are planted and that these NATIVE plants are protected and managed to ensure successful establishment.

Managed watercourses and managed catchments are what we need to ensure a stable flood free future.

So Floody hell, this is a floody big problem – let’s get our floody heads together and let’s take some floody action!


Mike C