Invasion Biology February 22, 2017

This is a topic that people far cleverer than me should be commenting on. However, given that I have been dealing with invasive species for a little over twenty years now – I do believe that I have something to bring to the table.

Perhaps we should be looking more at the general publics ‘perception’ of Japanese knotweed rather than the actual ‘invasion biology’ graph?

Invasion biology is all about establishment/growth phase/lag phase of invasive non-native species – this can take hundreds and thousands of years.

In contrast, the general public’s perception of a perceived problem can change overnight. All it can take is a news headline or an article in a tabloid and suddenly everyone’s talking about a certain issue that only the day before – they knew nothing about.

So …what is it about Japanese knotweed that has caught the public’s attention?

Well…let’s be honest – a lot of it has to do with money. If you have a problem plant – that will stop development dead in its tracks – then people are going to sit up and take notice. If you have a plant that can single handedly prevent houses being built – when there is a huge housing shortage – then people are going to wonder what’s going on.

This is what we have with Japanese knotweed.

At the time when knotweed first raised its ugly head – we had a situation where developers were on a financial wave – borrowing huge sums of money and knowing that they would get a good return on their investment. We often had situations where the developer would borrow several millions of pounds based on having 100 houses built in 12 months’ time – the repayments on the borrowed funds were often deferred until the sales started to come in…

So what happens if – after borrowing 5 million – you are told …’sorry you cannot build until the Japanese knotweed has been eradicated – and that will take three to five years of repeat herbicide application?’

More recently we have had mortgages being turned down and neighbour disputes over invasive species spreading over land boundaries. This is a relatively new problem and one that people have been unaware of …

Hence the horror stories in the newspapers and the TV shows, showing wrecked houses and tearful home owners.

It makes good TV and great headlines…..

The downside of the whole public perception angle is that it can pale, wane and disappear with ‘overkill’…have the public been ‘over-knotweeded’…??

There are respected environmentalists and writers who believe that plants such as Japanese knotweed are not the problem species that we have been lead to believe. They believe that nature has one grand master plan going on – of which we (the human race) are only a minor blip. They believe that these aggressive invaders are actually protecting our bare earth from the ravages of erosion and run off – and are simply growing where our native species cannot survive??

Maybe global warming and longer term environmental changes will see the worlds bio-diversity change, maybe we will see certain species becoming dominant where previously they were simply only ‘invasive’…?

Currently, the agreed UK strategy is to manage and eradicate problem species where they are deemed to be growing either over enthusiastically or interfering with development. Much of this legislation has been led by European initiative…perhaps the BREXIT situation will lead to changes in how we approach these species.

Much of my work has been very ‘black and white’ with Japanese knotweed being removed from areas of new housing. If left, the plant would cause misery to the home owners, so removal is a fairly obvious answer. Maybe as we gradually defeat the aggressive invader the sites that we treat will be more complex, perhaps with situations where eradication and removal are not beneficial to development or the environment? It is perhaps at this point that somebody needs to be thinking ….is this really necessary?

Whilst knotweed is high in people’s perception then works will be done to eradicate the plant. But, if interest wanes or these plants become accepted as part of the ‘norm’ – then our typical native species will take a battering.

Who is right?

Watch this space to follow the discussion.

Mike C

Are we there yet …?? February 15, 2017

As a child I wasn’t famous for my patience. When we went to Kent to visit our relatives I would be asking, ‘Are we there yet?’… pretty much as soon as we left Glossop. This would irritate the hell out of my father who would grind his teeth for the next 240 miles until we arrived at our destination…

I have noticed a similar obsession with our clients with regards the anticipated death of Japanese knotweed, ‘Is it dead yet? Is it dead yet?’…

I am also now beginning to notice a rather more worrying problem in that the overall perception of the whole invasive species issue has been lowered from everyone’s sight line. This can be explained fairly simply – in that there are far more worrying things around than a few plants growing where they shouldn’t.

If you are faced with a choice of worrying about Mr. Trump having his finger hovering over the nuclear launch control …OR …a few Himalayan balsam plants appearing on your nearby parkland…it’s easy to see that most people will lose sleep over Mr. Trump.

I gave a presentation to a company in Sale, Manchester a few years ago and just outside their car park I noticed a very small clump of Japanese knotweed. I referred to the clump during the presentation and said to them, ‘If you get your act together you can get rid of this infestation quickly, easily and cheaply, before it becomes a major problem’.

They assured me that this would be put in hand.

Five years later, the same company asked me back to give them an update on all things invasive and low and behold just outside their offices …the same clump of Japanese knotweed now roughly 50 metres by 25 metres – a major bloody problem. This is the same small piece of Japanese knotweed that I spotted years before…they had done nothing about it.

Instead of giving my presentation in their boardroom, I dragged the whole team outside and said, ‘This is exactly what I’m talking about…’

They all looked sheepish and everyone pointed their fingers at everyone else. But …and this is what happens…all of these people had driven past this clump of knotweed growing and spreading day after day, week after week, year after year….and done nothing about it.

Unless it’s stopping a development and somebody has some money to spend …then many of these invasive species problems will just not get tackled. Most invasive species grow and spread along linear corridors such as rivers, canals, railways – and most are on land owned or managed by companies with little or no funding to deal with the problems.

The government’s latest legislation goes a long way toward helping prevent NEW invasive species getting established …but…existing infestations of Japanese knotweed are deemed so large as to be too extensive to legislate against. This means that basically anybody with large areas of knotweed will not be empowered to manage or control these areas unless they grow beyond their site boundary.

But …what message does this send to the general population – pretty much ….that this is not THAT important …

So in answer to the question, ‘Are we there yet?’ with invasive species management, the answer is still a resounding…. ‘no’ …

For continued discussion on this topic, please note this year’s seminar on 17th May at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

Tickets on sale now.

Mike C

Apocalypse Now. February 8, 2017

May 17th 2017 – the date for this year’s JKSL seminar….be there or be not there…but you will be missing out.

So are you coming then….?

I tend to think that if people knew the time and effort that went in to these things then they would appreciate it a bit more. This isn’t just a series of people doing a sales pitch for their companies.

This isn’t Mike Clough doing a one man Japanese knotweed show…

This takes months and months of planning – months of heartache and late night phone calls (mainly me to Suzanne…sorry Suz)

Reading books, articles, tweeting and tweet following, Facebook reading – then discussing and refining what we think people want to hear about. Then maybe a little of what we think they should be hearing about. Maybe a bit of political slant toward protecting the environment and a bit of habitat saving ….but generally a lot of thought going into trying to find the most interesting people that we can find to stimulate our audience.

Suzanne and I start thinking about next year’s seminar …pretty much as we start putting away last year’s props and clearing the tables of the ideas that came up with to entertain our attendees.

There’s usually a bit of gentle ribbing between Suzanne and me – along the lines of… ‘never again’ and ‘…this is all your fault Mr. Clough …’…but generally it’s a good humoured banter as we both get a real buzz from planning and executing one of the events of the year.

This year we have ‘upped the ante’ by adding a celebrity to the speaker list in the guise of Michaela Strachan – she of ‘Springwatch/Winterwatch/Really Wild Show’..fame. This may slew our attendance figures and result in a huge number of new bookings – so those of you who are regulars at the event need to get your request for tickets in early please to avoid disappointment.

We also have further speakers to entice and beguile;

Trevor Renals – a regular at our events and a great speaker – talking about the Environment Agency…and its concerns for our future.

Dick Shaw of CABI – talking about bio-control of invasive non-native species.

Mark Avery – author of numerous books, scientist, naturalist and wildlife campaigner – who will be putting his take on what we should be worried about….

Warren Slaney – river keeper on the Haddon Estate – who will be discussing the difficult task he has of keeping the rivers that he manages free of invading non-native species.

…all of this…plus Mike Clough with his slightly unusual take on what is happening in the world of Japanese knotweed and the other invasive non-native problem species that we deal with.

Don’t hesitate – get on the phone, get on your computer and reserve your place.

Mike C

Seminar 2017 February 6, 2017


JKSL are pleased to invite you to our annual seminar, ‘Apocalypse Now’.

This year’s theme covers threats posed to the environment and welcomes a broad range of speakers from television, literature and leading government bodies including:

• Michaela Strachan (TV presenter)

• Trevor Renals (Environment Agency)

• Dick Shaw (CABI bio-control)

• Mark Avery (Writer, blogger and environmental campaigner)

• John Lewis-Stempel (Historian, farmer and Sunday Times Top 5 best-selling author)

Plus other speakers to be confirmed!

The seminar will be hosted by Mike Clough of Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd.

Mike will be introducing found footage of his involvement with the filming of the legendary Apocalypse Now film!

Delegates are invited to join us for dinner with the speakers the night before the seminar. A 3 course set menu is offered from 7:30pm at Grafene in Manchester, headed by award-winning Executive Chef Darren Goodwin. Places are limited and will be offered on a first come, first served basis.

The seminar costs £85 + VAT per delegate.

Lunch and free parking included. Places at Grafene will cost £26.95 per delegate.

To book your place, download the booking form and return to [email protected] or fax to 0161 723 2001.

As we look towards an ever changing world, global warming and an exit from Europe, we ask what is in store for our British landscape? We will be discussing how we should face an uncertain future and ask will this lead to ‘Apocalypse Now’?

The best things in life … February 1, 2017

Do you ever wonder to yourself …what’s it all about?

Life, love, work… everything …what really is it that we are all trying to achieve? Of late I have become aware of a trend whereby young (I say ‘young’ meaning ‘younger than me’) men with families just pack in their jobs and become house fathers.

This is often accompanied by a stated desire to ‘opt out of the rat race’ and perhaps the gaining of an allotment, growth of a beard and a slight smell of body odour….

Now most of the time when this is presented to me I make a sound of air being released from pressure – a sort of ‘pwaaah’ noise …a noise of contempt.

But – dear reader – who is it that is actually correct…? I ask you to consider – who is happier? The man who works every hour god sends and strives to better himself for financial gain, or, the man who says …no I do not want material things I want more from life …but …not shiny things …rather the experience of spending quality time with my children and seeing every moment of their development.

If I look back over my life (and honestly I very rarely do) the one thing I would have to say that I would have to change is to spend more time with my children. My two daughters are closest to their mum and quite rightly so – as it was her that spent every day with them during the formative years of their development.

Where was I…??? Well I was at work, morning, noon and night, 6 sometimes 7 days a week. But you cannot go back and re-live these moments, choices are made and time passes – quickly.

Who made me spend all these hours at work – well let’s be honest – it was me….

I am driven – I can’t just sit back and let things happen, I have to be in the driving seat…and I have to be driving beyond the speed limit with everything. I find nowadays unless I am under pressure I just don’t get the ‘thrill’ that I used to get from winning the project and making the money. I’ve grown immune to ‘normal’ conditions and only come to life when there is a threat …

My name is Mike Clough and I’m a workaholic….

Yet…there is a glimmer of hope…I have of late found a new enjoyment and it’s pretty much free of charge.

Allowing others to take on a challenge and seeing them succeed on their own merit has become one of my favorite pass times. Watching the pleasure that others gain from doing well has become my new drug of choice – and I’m hungry for more.

Certain members of the team at JKSL have become the butterflies that I have imagined and cast off the shackles of being caterpillars – and it’s just brilliant to watch. I won’t say that I’ve forced this new growth but have simply engineered situations that have allowed them to flourish…

So I’m going to ‘back off’ a little more – the beard has been grown, the allotment (maybe not), I do smell slightly of BO but this is down to being a bit more physically active (I’ve bought a ‘Fitbit’)….

I’m going to try and find out what life is all about before it’s too late….

Mike C

They think it’s all over …. February 1, 2017

As I travel around the country I see different levels of knowledge about invasive species and the impacts that they have.

These differing levels range from the ones in a complete panic to those that are complacent. The ones in a panic have generally heard all the horror stories of damage to buildings and loss of value of property …and then have suddenly found that there is a huge infestation at the bottom of their garden. Those that are complacent have usually had a ‘friend’ who had a problem…but it… ‘got sorted’.

What is interesting to see is that the level of awareness has risen to the point where very few people now say, ‘What? Never heard of that …?’ …when faced with the infamous Japanese knotweed. TV programmes like ‘Countryfile’ and ‘Tonight’ have run fairly major pieces on invasive species which has meant that most people have seen dramatic pictures of houses impacted by the dreaded weed – these types of images do tend to remain in your mind long after the TV programme has finished.

For over fifteen years now I have been raising the profile of all things invasive and non-native and I feel that I am pretty well placed to comment on what is happening in the UK.

Every once in a while something ‘new’ comes into the construction industry. Whether it be a new material for roofing or paving or walling – maybe a new damp proof system …whatever…maybe a new invasive species?

1. You then get a focus of activity when the company that invented/created the product are the ONLY ones offering the service. This could be deemed the ‘initial phase’.

2. You then get the flurry of activity phase when other companies copy what the inventor company has come up with. This could be called the ‘rapid expansion phase’

3. You then get an over population of companies where there simply isn’t enough work to go round. The ‘saturation phase’…

4. Then there will be a disappearance of many of the poorer quality companies – the ‘extinction phase’…

I would suggest that we have been through phase one and two – and are currently in the ‘saturation phase’.

What people need to be aware of is that with invasive species management it isn’t as simple as – say a paving supplier. Let’s say you employ the cheap paving supplier who then ceases to trade – you’ve got some cheap shitty paving but that’s your fault …not the end of the world.

If however, you employ a cheap company to deal with your invasive plant problem and he goes bump – slightly different set of issues – your invasive species that needed spraying for five years suddenly isn’t getting sprayed ….and its coming back with a vengeance.

Poorly sprayed plants are actually more difficult to kill than those that have had no chemical treatment at all…

I am convinced that as we go forward there will be a whole influx of work from poorly managed projects where inexperienced companies have been employed cheaply to deal with complex issues.

We often lose work on the back of inexperienced surveyors putting in cheap prices for works on which they just don’t understand what will be required. They allow for a single season spray of well-established stands of knotweed and don’t allow in their price for return visits.

They basically take the money and run…

So please, when looking for a contractor to deal with your invasive species problem – don’t… ‘think it’s all over’ …after a single spray …don’t expect that the cheapest price is going to be the best value…and remember not all of these knotweed companies will be around when your problem returns.

Phase 4 is just around the corner.

Mike C

NB – JKSL celebrating 15 years of successfully completed projects – the longest established sole provider of Japanese knotweed solutions… in the world.

Is it over yet …? February 1, 2017

I used to see Japanese knotweed everywhere.

I would take my wife away on holiday and everywhere we went – Japanese knotweed.

We used to holiday regularly in Portmeirion at the Hotel in Wales – and used to see little patches of JK everywhere on the journey down from Manchester – and then again in the grounds of the hotel.

We also travelled to Scotland to stay on the banks of Loch Lomond – knotweed everywhere. Driving into the car park of Hotel du Vin in Winchester …you’ve guessed it Japanese knotweed.

In and around Manchester you would see Japanese knotweed almost everywhere you looked – street corners, back gardens, anywhere that wasn’t maintained ….and Wigan …jk ‘central’ as if somebody had been using it for street planting…

Yet …today everything seems a little different? …or does it??

Have I simply become immune to the weed? Have I stopped registering the plant …or…have we made some in-roads into the dominance of a single species of invader??

Hmmmm – got to admit I’m not sure.

As I drive out of Glossop I note:

Jk near to chemical works

Jk above Roseanne’s house

Jk in Broadbottom

Jk by the river

Jk by that house that’s been for sale forever

Jk by the cricket club

Jk on the side of the motorway

Jk in the central reservation of the motorway

Jk by the traffic island in Denton

Jk by the roundabout as I come off the motorway

Jk by the railway line

Jk near the petrol station

Jk on the riverside

Jk on the piece of building land that hasn’t sold

I think I’ve just answered my own question – it’s just my perception that’s changed ….

Whereas previously I’ve gone – JAPANESE KNOTWEED ALERT !!!!

I now go …Japanese knotweed, Japanese knotweed, Japanese knotweed ….just not as loudly.

Still a problem then.


Mike C

Are invasive species actually useful? February 1, 2017

I’ve been having a bit of a mid-life crisis recently where I begin to question everything that I do? I’ve been dealing with invasive species for the last twenty years or so and have been pretty clear in my mind what it is that I’ve been doing.

We have ‘native’ plants and we have ‘non-native’ plants. ‘Native’ ones ‘should’ be here …’non-native’ ones ‘shouldn’t’…easy. One can look at a river frontage and see Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed, Giant hogweed all surrounded by sycamore trees. You can look at this and say that …’really none of these plants should be here’…we have native species that have been bullied out of this picture by the aggressive ‘alien’ species.

But – having been involved in a significant number of invasive species clearance projects – I am beginning to see something else going on.

Let’s be honest here – human beings are a pretty recent phenomenon. A recent phenomenon that has had a massive global impact ….but…in the scheme of things still a pretty recent feature. I look at my life and look at changes in the impact of ‘invasive species’ and really I’m looking at a ‘speck’ in time. Literally a mere micro dot, on a micro dot, on a micro dot…..on a spot in time.

Completely insignificant….yet I’m expecting to….’see changes …’

These ‘changes’ that I’m expecting will probably take hundreds, thousands maybe millions of years…yet in my sad little world I’m expecting Mike Clough to have an impact – not gonna happen.

What I am beginning to see though is that the ‘random’ spread of invasive non-native species is perhaps not as random as I first thought. Perhaps ‘invasions’ are natures ‘salve’…? …nature’s way of covering a wound?

The spread of Japanese knotweed is often described as… ‘covering the entire UK’. This is a bit misleading although it is based on scientific evidence. The ‘spread’ is shown by use of a ten kilometer grid and states that JK is present in each of these squares – the squares cover the entire UK …hence jk covers the whole of the UK.

However, if the grid is split down to a 2.5km grid, a slightly different picture emerges where the super weed is shown to be concentrated in our urban areas – our major cities being the hot spots of reported growth and identified problems.

So ….NOT our farmland, NOT our National Parks, NOT our woodlands or our coastal areas.

Our urban areas have at various times all been through massive change as the industrial revolution took hold, flourished… then declined.

We have seen changes in housing and the way we live from terraced houses to flats …with various models being tried ….then cast away to become derelict.

Changes in the way we heat and power our homes and the loss of the coal mining industry have all has massive impact on our land use.

We have been through two world wars which have had massive impact – plus the bombing of central Manchester by the IRA.

Global warming – flooding – river management.

All of the above have created patches of dead land – patches of land that have been ignored, fenced off and left untouched.

It is these areas that have begun to cause me concern.

We are often employed to survey such areas and to mitigate against invasive species – going in heavy handed with chemicals and machinery …yet much of the vegetation that we perceive as ‘invasive’ has in fact grown in areas where no native plant would grow?

Heavy metals and toxic ground conditions mean that our typical native flora just has not got the ability to withstand the conditions …so without the invasive non-native species …nothing would be growing in these areas.

Hand in hand with the invasive species we see insects and wildlife responding to the new vegetation and adapting to the new environment.

Bees love Himalayan balsam….

Otters find cover within Japanese knotweed…

So…my big question is…should we be so dismissive of invasive non-nationwide species??

Should we be so vigorous in their eradication or should we be taking a step back and asking a few more pertinent questions before hitting them with glyphosate?

It’s all to do with money and development and house building…but …maybe one or two people should be asking about the ‘environment’ and what the bigger picture is??…maybe we should look at nature’s master plan???

Hmmm a lot to think about here??

Watch this space.


Mike C