Technology… March 30, 2016

Don’t you just love gadgets?

I just can’t get enough Apple products – I just love the whole user experience… from the website through the ordering process and finally the delivery of the white box containing all the goodies.

…and they come ready charged

…and they all talk to each other

…and you don’t have to add each Wi-Fi password because the other kit has already told the new kit what the password is!

Phone, i-pad, Mac –pro, pen, watch…whey hey hey …fantastic…

But – I’m getting a few bad feelings..

I can now find my wife wherever she is, whenever I want.

I don’t… but I could.

This means that other people can track me – wherever I am – whenever they want …if they hack into my phone. Which could mean that a competitor who wanted to know which sites I was looking at …could just download some spyware…and my business is screwed.

The Inland Revenue could track me wherever I go, the VAT man could follow my every move – all the information on my movements could be sent to some central system that then send me adverts for shopping stuff I don’t need?

It’s already happening with Amazon….

…and what about the old ‘boys in blue’.

What about my driving skills? I’m pretty sure if someone monitored any of my bits of kit they could work out that I don’t always obey the speed limit (allegedly)…and I would be banged up without any defence?

I’m not saying it’s going to happen …but it could.

…and what happens when it all goes wrong?

I am currently moving from Power-point (Microsoft Windows) to Keynote (Apple) for my presentations and have been introduced to ‘Airdrop’ – which appears to only work when magical words are said??*

*NB the key magical words appear to be …’why the f**k isn’t this working’…

In the past my skills were limited to – turning something off and on again…now I have to work out the vagaries of Bluetooth and Airdrop…

I like to bang said item of technology on the table when they don’t work or hit them with the palm of my hand.

These now toys aren’t built for this sort of treatment. How do you give something a slap when you can’t even see it – bloody ‘Cloud’…bloody ‘Bluetooth’…bloody ‘Airdrop’.

Maybe it’s time to retire?

I suppose when I’ve got dementia ….at least I’ll be able to find my wife if I lose her.

Mind you when I’ve got dementia …I probably won’t even know I’ve lost her? ….and definitely won’t remember to charge all my bits of kit….


Mike C

Seminars and speaking… March 23, 2016

Most people hate public speaking – it’s up there with the worst of people’s phobias – worse than spiders or snakes even. I used to be in this category and would shy away from anything that involved standing in front of an audience. Yet here I am pretty much every week getting out and about the UK talking at various seminars, conventions in fact pretty much anywhere that people will listen to me.

So what’s changed in my little world??

Well I guess the primary thing that’s changed, is that I now know what I’m talking about. I think one of the greatest fears that we all have, is being made to look a fool – only being surpassed by being made to look a fool… in front of an audience of your peers.

Most people’s first taste of public speaking comes when you are at University when you get up to present your work to you classmates. The down side of this situation is that there is usually a complete arse of a tutor also in the room – just waiting to rip the p*** out of any mistakes that you make.

He stands there lording it over his obsequious pupils who all titter at his inane jokes and preen themselves in some vain attempt to get his attention. Then he just cuts you to pieces with some acerbic witticism that he’s been just dying to use…all the more painful because he’s usually correct and you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

This is the down side doing an art based degree – when my artistic skills were not up there with my plant knowledge and horticultural ability. I was always on the back foot to the more ‘art-y’ types who knew nothing about plants but could sketch and draw with no effort.

This was one of my early life lessons.

The tutors insisted that the artistic and presentation skill were secondary to the plant knowledge and design skills required to be a landscape architect – yet every time there was an assessment the artistic ones got the top grades …and the more horticultural based projects were marked down.

So… if it looked good and was drawn well – forget the content and the reality of whether it could be built …give it an A****

All the more painful to stand up and present…. in front of drawings that were not ‘works of art’ but rather works of horticulture.

My first taste of public speaking was therefore not exactly filling me with confidence.

Shoot forward a few years and I found myself being asked to talk about my work with invasive non-native species. I nervously stood in front of my first audience – but instead of sarcasm and criticism – I was met with intelligent questions and an attentive crowd… and every question that they asked I knew the answer to.

Massive confidence builder.

I have grown from this point; to a situation where I have been known to enjoy the whole presentation experience. I still get a few colly wobbles and occasionally get an awkward question…. but I’m yet to be asked something that I can’t give a sensible answer to.

So take my advice if you do have a public speaking phobia – get up and speak about something you’re passionate about – speak about something that you know the likely questions that will be asked… and have the answers to hand.

Most people want you to do well and very few want you to fail (apart from that prat of a tutor that I had in Leeds)…


Mike C

Dropping Standards… March 16, 2016

Is it just me or are standards dropping everywhere? Nobody seems to care anymore about ‘quality’ anymore… it’s all about getting the money in, getting the orders, making the dosh and moving on…

I first noticed this with car salesmen.

I’d always had a fairly good relationship with the dealership where I bought my cars then gradually started to notice a cooling off – and a distance from the salesmen which was then reflected in the prices that they were charging and the trade in deals that were forthcoming. I was then advised that they were working to ‘set standards’ which meant that they had no wiggle room on car prices – so no matter how many cars you’ve bought or what relationship you’ve had with them – there is… ‘no room for discussion’.

OK that’s fine Mr Car Dealership – so why the fuck should I use you then? I might as well go to any other dealership and get the same price – relationship over.

I then bought a car from a new dealership and thought that I had made a new friend with the ever so attentive salesman. He was a great guy whilst I was looking at the car, he was great whilst I was confirming the car but once he’d got his money…didn’t want to know when there was a problem.

I then noticed that the hotels that I was staying in regularly – began to change staff. All the familiar faces were leaving to be replaced by more and more foreign labour. Doormen disappeared, car parking fees raised, less variation on menu and the TV film listings just never seem to be updated…(surely ‘Die Hard’ can’t be a recent release??? )

The room standards have fallen, carpets need cleaning and the whole place has an air of … ‘on the way out’…

I am a big advocate of… ‘you get what you pay for’…yet the world seems intent on doing everything cheaper?

Food, clothes, phones …cheap, cheap, cheap… and cheaper

Where does it end? …

If you are forever cutting costs then how are you going to pay for upkeep of your equipment, training of staff and maintaining relationships with your customers??

I know of several new start-up ‘Japanese Knotweed’ companies who have appeared over the last few months and are offering ridiculously low prices which are not based on economic sense.

We have Scottish based companies coming to Manchester to do chemical spraying for day rates which I as a local contractor can’t match. We have Brighton based companies giving prices for projects in Bolton and Bury that I as a local contractor can’t match…

What is the point of working for nothing? What is the point of travelling miles and miles to make no money and not cover your costs? All this does is ruin the market for sensible companies that wish to cover costs and make a small margin…enough to ensure that they carry on trading.

Can we stop all this cheap nonsense please?

Note –

The world is a far more complex place to live in – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

Risk assessments, method statements, aftercare reports – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

More and More Health and Safety training – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

Vehicles are far more expensive to maintain – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

Fuel is more expensive – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

Wages have increased – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

My wife shopping bills are horrendous – PRICES SHOULD GO UP NOT DOWN

Sorry but it’s true…

Mike C

Where …? March 9, 2016

They seek it here, they seek it there …but where will the elusive Japanese Knotweed be found?

Okay, okay…. it’s not quite the Scarlett Pimpernel ….and lets be honest it isn’t that ‘elusive’…so you’d pretty much find it anywhere?

Well not quite.

There are clues that will get you pointing in the right direction…

Many people imagine that Japanese Knotweed is… ‘taking over our countryside’…well – in some places it is – but usually this will have started from a point along a river  or a railway – some sort of linear route will be the point of origin.

Then when you start looking closely at this ‘point of origin’ you will see other formative factors – usually concluding that MAN has caused the infestation.

For years I couldn’t understand why knotweed would often be associated with the utility companies?

Why would a new infestation appear beside some new excavation for water pipes or a new gas-main? Was the knotweed simply lying dormant waiting to be awoken by the machinery or was the machinery somehow bringing the knotweed to the site….?

Hmmmm…maybe I need to contact Mulder and Scully and open an X File?

There’s nothing alien going on and it’s not rocket science either – once you see how the utility companies carry out their works and quickly move on to the next project – without cleaning the machinery…you begin to get a hint as to what’s happening.

Small fragments of viable knotweed are being moved from one site to another on the excavators and dumpers on the tracks or held on the chunky tyre treads – these simply fall off and get buried on site during works then start growing and rapidly spread.

Why do new infestations often appear along rivers?

This is a pretty easy one – obviously during times of flood,viable knotweed will be broken off and drift downstream only to end up beached on the riverbank when the floodwater subsides. But why …you may be asking…was it on the river bank in the first place? Well …there could be a variety of reasons for this – but just putting a couple of thoughts in your head:

Japanese Knotweed was used by the Victorian landscape designers in wetland settings to create a lush mature looking garden. During times of flood these wetlands and lakes would often overflow into watercourses taking fragments of knotweed with them.
Japanese Knotweed was also planted on purpose by the rivers authorities to stabilize embankments

Why do we get large stands of knotweed on the side of railway tracks?

Again a pretty easy one – railway engineers used Japanese Knotweed to stabilise unruly piles of stone on their embankments adjacent to the railway tracks. The plant has then rapidly spread causing huge problems to both Network Rail and to adjacent land owners.

What I find fascinating with the spread of this intrusive alien is that everyone seems to think that the plant is the most aggressive of invaders and that ‘accidental introductions’ have caused all of our problems….

It would however seem that …’accidents’…have little to do with the spread of Japanese Knotweed …pretty much anywhere that ‘man’ has had an impact…. you WILL find our least favourite plant.


Mike C

Other Herbicides are Available March 8, 2016

The world continues to obsess about glyphosate:

The EU has announced that it is likely to renew the licence to use glyphosate.

While Greenpeace EU’s Food Policy Director called for an “exit strategy from chemical pesticides”.

Although it doesn’t point to glyphosate directly, a study from Argentina suggests that people living in areas of heavy agriculture may be more likely than the national average to die of cancer. It’s unclear too whether the study shows any difference in overall mortality rates or life expectancy – or whether it compensates for differences between rural and city living.

In other news, the US food agency the FDA has announced that they will be testing foods for glyphosate.

To be clear, Defra and other agencies in the UK already regularly test for pesticide residues in food, including glyphosate. Food testing may also have additional significance in the US, where GMO crops including soybean are widely grown – allowing the crops to survive being sprayed with pesticides and potentially increasing residual content.

So where does Japanese Knotweed Solutions stand in all of this?

Well, first of all, we have a duty of care to our employees, our clients and to the public. We take that seriously, employing and continuously reviewing stringent safety measures. We also monitor information about the substances and the equipment that we use, ensuring we maintain the highest standards through our continued individual or company memberships of bodies like the Amenity Forum, BASIS, INNSA, IOSH and SSIP providers like SMAS and SafeContractor.

What’s more, we are at the forefront of best practice in the invasive species industry, contributing to and complying with the INNSA Code of Practice, as regulated by the Property Ombudsman service.

JKSL’s CEO Mike Clough regularly delivers CPD presentations around the UK, hosts our annual seminar and provides updates to clients and suppliers alike on new developments in our industry.

Japanese Knotweed Solutions is not only open to a herbicide-free future, but has been actively looking towards the possibility for some years. Much of JKSL’s work is already carried out without the use of pesticides and we continue to implement and advise our clients on the requirements of the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations.

What’s more, JKSL continues to offer our patented MeshTech system for controlling Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed, which can only become more popular in a future where existing chemistry is being withdrawn and new products are slow to come to market.

The key to such bold proposals as those from Greenpeace is to ensure that each step focusses on what is best for people and our environment over the long term – not just a short-sighted view that anything that causes cancer must be immediately banned.

As Operations Manager, I look at a lot of our Health and Safety documents in detail, and from a safety point of view, there are several substances that it would be ideal to remove from the business – however, safer alternatives are not available. You might be surprised to learn that the chemicals at the top of my list of hazards are not herbicides but actually petrol (and diesel). Petrol is a class 1 carcinogen (where glyphosate is currently classed as 2a) and what’s more, it poses a risk of harm to the unborn child.

I would be interested to know of the people who are currently fretting about glyphosate: do they wear gloves when they fill up the car? Do they ensure they wash their hands afterwards (especially if they just filled up on the way into the supermarket)? No criticism – just curiosity…

Our current situation is not one where pesticides are being used for fun, and in many cases, there are no safer, effective alternatives (see Azulam). Pesticides are a cornerstone of modern agriculture around the world, and it is no exaggeration to state that they are used in life-or-death situations in airfields, railways and highways where accidents can cause tragic loss of life.

There is a balance – and if you push on one side, there will be consequences on the other. While it can be argued that many of these consequences are manageable, many of them are not insignificant. Others, like food price rises, could have globally significant impacts.

The invasive species industry would survive without herbicides and I am confident that JKSL would continue to prosper – however, impacts on biodiversity, flooding and crucial industries from housebuilding to transport infrastructure must feature in any sensible road map to a (more) chemical-free future.


Chris Oliver
Operations Manager
Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd

Native…or Not… March 8, 2016

One of the slides in my current presentation shows a river frontage in what appears to be a very ‘natural setting’.

However on closer inspection it is possible to see –

I then go on to explain the nature of these plant relationships.

In very simplistic terms the Himalayan balsam grows within the flood plain of the river but does not bind the soil together. The balsam grows to the preclusion of our native species which would typically be growing in this section of river bank.

In the higher reaches of the river bank we get Japanese knotweed growing. The knotweed does not like to grow in areas prone to flooding so does not colonise the flood zone of the river. Typically, the Environment Agency will put overflow sections on rivers prone to flooding – these sections of drain are typically just above the typical flood height and designed to take water during only the most dramatic of flood events.  The entrance to these overflow sections is usually grated with a steel cage to stop debris getting into the channel of the drain.

Over winter, the Himalayan balsam dies back leaving bare ground with little or no root holding the soil together. During the winter months we tend to get heavy rainfall leading to flooding incidents on our rivers. The debris from the surface growth of the balsam dying back falls into the watercourse and floats downstream and ends up in the steel grate of the over-flow channel.

The bare soil left unconsolidated after the winter die back then collapses into the river. As the soil collapses, the river bank above also breaks up and falls into the watercourse where further dead stems of the Knotweed float along and block the drain further.

The Giant Hogweed stems collapse and fall into the river along with thousands of viable seeds. The stems float downstream and cause additional problems as they also block the overflow drains.

With nowhere to go, the river floods the adjacent land taking viable knotweed propagules and viable seed onto new areas primed and ready to be taken over….

So in answer to the original question of a river frontage being a very…. ‘natural setting’ – I’m sorry but NO …what you are actually looking at is a battle ground – with a war for total domination taking place before your very eyes…

It’s not NATURAL….it’s a man introduced nightmare.


Mike C

The Little Lord March 2, 2016

When I was young I used to see magnificent pictures in my father’s geographical magazine about far away countries and forgotten tribes. I tried to copy these pictures but was snubbed by grown-ups who thought my artwork very basic and unrealistic. My drawings were relegated to the bin or filed in dusty drawers in far flung rooms that were never used.

So instead of following my artistic leanings I chose another profession and became a botanist. My profession took me all over the world looking at strange plants in exotic locations as I garnered a reputation as a lover of indigenous species and a bastion of anything alien and invasive within these ecosystems that I cherished.

So I lived my life pretty much alone, without anybody who I really talked to, until I had an accident with my car on the edge of Oldham some six years ago. Something was broken in my engine and nothing I could do would get the car to move. I had no AA membership and no mobile phone and so set myself the task of attempting some kind of repair all on my own. It was pretty much a question of life or death for me as this was a rough area and when darkness fell, anything could happen and probably would.

That first night as darkness fell I fell asleep on the cars reclined seat I felt more isolated than when in any of the far flung countries that I had visited. I felt like a shipwrecked sailor adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Thus you can imagine my amazement – at sunrise, when I was awakened by an odd little voice that said:

“If you please – can you draw me up a method statement”

I jumped out of the car completely shocked. I blinked my eyes hard, looked carefully all around me and finally saw an extraordinarily small person who stood there examining me with great seriousness.

…the little Lord seemed very confident in these most dangerous of locations – nothing about him gave any indication that he was at all uncomfortable.

“If you please – can you do me a risk assessment and method statement?”

When at last I was able to speak, I said to him:

“…but what are you doing here?”

In answer he repeated his question, very slowly as if talking about a matter of great consequence –

“..if you please – a strategy document with method statement attached?”

Absurd as it may seem, miles away from home and in danger of robbery or death, I took out of my pocket a sheet of paper and my fountain pen and began to write. But then I remembered how my studies had been based on plants and plant invasions, alien species ….so I told the little chap my skills lay in a different direction.

“That is exactly what I require” he answered,

We talked more and more and gradually I learned, little by little everything that was required of me.

The first time he saw my car he asked me,

“What is that object?”

“That is not an object, it drives, it is a car, it is my car”.

And I was proud to have him learn that I could drive.

“What? You drove over from Glossop?”

“Yes – I answered modestly”

“Oh that is funny!”

And the little Lord broke into a peel of laughter.

“You have come so very far, yet you have arrived in an area with just as many problems as that from which you came!”.

You can imagine how my curiosity was aroused by his confidence in the ‘many problems’ that Glossop had – and made a great effort to find out more about this subject.

“What do you want your method statement and risk assessment to cover” I asked.

He waved his hands in a covering gesture, and with a hint of sadness he proclaimed – “all of this, everything ahead and around, all that you can see that should not be here”…

At this comment I began to look a little closer around my location.

What had appeared at first green and lush now appeared foreign and alien. Bamboo like arching stems shot in all directions and where light penetrated the thick foliage a purple flowered soft herb grew in abundance. Above all towered a mighty giant looking down on its surroundings with disdain.

Why had I not seen this before? So engrossed was I in my own misfortunes I had missed the fact that the very landscape that I had taken for granted was in fact under siege from plant and animal invaders stealthily reaping the rewards of the ignorance of its neighbors.

As each hour passed I would learn a little more about the little lord’s home. The information would come very slowly as it might chance to fall from his thoughts. It was in this way that heard about the catastrophe of the knotweeds.

“Is it true that goats eat little knotweed plants”

“Yes – it is true”

“Ah I am glad!”

“Then it also follows that they eat balsam and hogweed?”

I pointed out to the little Lord that the knotweed in his land were not ‘little’ but on the contrary – were as big as houses – and even if he took a heard of elephants to site they would not eat a single stand.

The idea of a heard of elephants made the little Lord laugh – but then he made a wise comment:

“Before they grow so big, the knotweeds start out by being little”

“That is strictly correct” I said “but why do you want the goats to eat the little knotweed plants?”

He answered me at once.


Mike C – with thanks to Antoine de saint Exupery