Swansea Japanese Knotweed Study – A Leap Forward in Understanding this Problem Plant? April 26, 2018

I read with interest about the publication of a “major study” into the treatment of Japanese knotweed – then I read with some surprise that “Japanese knotweed can’t be eradicated”. I was particularly surprised, given that eradicating Japanese knotweed is what I do.

Unfortunately, what I was reading wasn’t the results or the abstract of the study, but instead a carefully crafted press release, regurgitated by journalists who probably don’t have an in-depth understanding of the science behind it, and most likely headlined by people with no practical experience of Japanese knotweed.

So, this survey proves you definitely can’t eradicate it, then?

What is even more confusing, given the “no cure” headline in the Telegraph, a different story published today about the same study states that ‘a team of bioscientists at Swansea University have developed an effective way to tackle Japanese knotweed’. Again, there is no detailed information on what this would be, and no link to the study or the details of the treatment method.

Oh, sorry – it’s called “the Four Stage Model”. That makes it all clear, and I’m sure it’s not at all like any of the other “proprietary”, “unique” or “new” systems that various existing companies tout on their websites, which turn out to just be (a combination of) the same method that companies like ourselves have been working with for over 15 years – but with a different name.

But it’s a scientific study; that means it’s facts (right?)

I have been reminiscing recently about Dr Ben Goldacre’s excellent book ‘Bad Science’ and the many issues that it highlights about modern media reporting of science, and scientific studies in particular.

In its favour, this press release does come out strongly against companies who state they can eradicate Japanese knotweed “in one spray” or “in one year” – when this is demonstrably not the case. However, the story also rings a lot of the “science reporting” alarm bells that Dr Goldacre outlined in his book, as well as raising a lot of the concerns that I, and others at the trade body INNSA have about certain companies in our industry.

No links were provided to the study itself, and the stories I have read on five different websites all contain the same quotes from the same three individuals – one of whom, a Dr Jones, is referred to as both a co-author of the study, and also ‘the founder of a consultancy that solves… invasive plant species problems’. What’s more, Dr Jones’ PhD was sponsored by a company which offers Japanese knotweed remediation.

Oh, and I did finally find an external link in one of the stories – it’s to the consultancy that Dr Jones founded.

I am not suggesting that either the researchers or the sponsoring company have done anything that isn’t above board – on the contrary; the arrangement makes sense, and industry funding is of great value in research and development – however, this information doesn’t feature in the major coverage of the story, and when some of the information is coming from a representative of a commercial company, it’s much harder to take the conclusions that they draw from the science at face value. Given there is no actual data available at this time (although the study concluded in 2016), and given there is no mention that the study has been peer-reviewed this raises another red flag.

Confusingly, some of the quotes refer to three years of trials, and another refers to five years, and one of the researchers refers to starting the study in 2011. In any case, this “major study” covered two sites.
To give you an idea of how “major” that is, Japanese Knotweed Solutions have treated fifteen hundred (yep, 1,500) individual sites over that period, and carried out well over five thousand treatment and monitoring visits in that time, on a wide variety of sites across the UK, remediated using every widely-recognised remediation method in the industry.

In some significant respects, the study supports what we found in our own experience over that time, and what we have known for over 15 years: that treating Japanese knotweed with glyphosate generally takes over three years. That’s why Japanese Knotweed Solutions recommend five-year treatment and monitoring plans for all glyphosate herbicide treatments, and why we provide insurance-backed guarantees for all domestic projects for the five years following treatment.
We also recognise that it’s possible to carry out herbicide treatment in such a way that it can take longer than five years in some cases, particularly where a mix of herbicides is used, or applications are made at inappropriate times.

They did what, now?

For these reasons, I also have major concerns over the methodology of the study – I am sure my own university tutors would have been poking holes in it just as I am. The concerns could have been factored in or controlled out of the study, but without being able to review the study itself, we can’t answer these questions.

Judging by the photograph on the BBC site (and assuming this is of the trial), it would seem that a variety of different methods have been deployed in areas of surface growth that are all adjacent to (or very close to) one another. This means that the rhizome (or underground “root system”) of these plants is in fact all interconnected. There is a good chance that this whole field is actually one large plant – and that matters. A lot.

Dr Eastwood states ‘Our research tested more methods of control than any other invasive species trial ever conducted’. Unfortunately, it seems that it tested them all on the same root system. If you were testing pharmaceuticals, you wouldn’t test 19 different drugs on the same patient at the same time!

Whether un-treated buffer strips have been left between is also not clear – but this would again have a significant impact on the treatment, as leaving buffer strips would allow areas to grow unhindered, and potentially re-invigorate the plant’s rhizome; working with no buffer strips would increase the likelihood of multiple treatments being applied to the same plants – although in practice, the plant’s own mechanisms would mean that herbicides would be translocated to sections of the rhizome in a way that could not be controlled by the researchers.

What you have here, is a plant with an extensive underground network that can store energy and create new growth, that is being attacked in some areas, but being left relatively un-harmed in other areas. It’s under attack, but not in the way that any of the individual treatment methods (particularly the herbicides) recommend.

The best approach to such a study would be to carry out each different treatment across all of the surface growth associated with a single rhizome, and critically not to apply more than one treatment to one plant. This is exactly what Japanese Knotweed Solutions have been doing for over fifteen years, with a great deal of success.

So, what does JKSL’s experience show?

There are ways that this study contradicts our extensive experience:

Removing material from site is a reliable, tried-and-tested way of remediating Japanese knotweed, if carried out by suitably competent individuals, using the methods outlined in the INNSA Code of Practice – Managing Japanese Knotweed (and formerly the Environment Agency’s Code of Practice – Managing Japanese Knotweed on Development Sites). Furthermore, on-site burial has a successful track record of controlling Japanese knotweed, and is supported by the Environment Agency, and is included in their Regulatory Position Statement 178 .

Industrial composting of Japanese knotweed has been shown in at least one study to successfully kill the plant material (including roots). Numerous additional studies show that sustained temperatures of over 50°C will eventually kill all plant material, and that temperatures of around 80°C will kill all the plant material tested within a matter of hours (including Japanese knotweed).

Furthermore, Japanese Knotweed Solutions’ own MeshTech is a patented product has been tested by an independent scientific study, and has been deployed by JKSL on numerous sites, resulting in successful eradication of the plant. It’s not a mysterious “unique system” – we’re very transparent about what it is, and what it does. It’s durable, environmentally friendly and we’ve been in talks with people from across Europe on how to implement it in practice, giving the benefit of our experience of using it within the UK.

So, while JKSL broadly expect the results that this study has shown, we think that headlines stating that ‘Japanese knotweed cannot be eradicated’ are very misleading.

All this demonstrates is that if you want the best help and advice in managing a Japanese knotweed problem, you should come to a company that has over 15 years’ experience on the ground; my advice would be to steer clear of companies offering “unique new solutions”, particularly where the company has no track record of successful eradication, and even more so if their experience is limited to only two sites.

Chris Oliver, Operations Manager
Japanese Knotweed Solutions Limited

Short April 25, 2018

I get a lot of feedback from my digital team on the reader responses to my blogs and have been told that the shorter blogs get far more ‘likes’ and are better received.

So this week’s blog is short.

Mike C

Made to Measure April 18, 2018

Have you ever had really shit clothes?

You know, the outfit your mother made you wear, or something that’s been handed down from an elder sibling? I had an absolute nightmare experience at secondary school which was down to wearing all my brothers cast offs.

On day one my mother made me wear an old jacket of my elder brothers that drowned me. It had stitched on leather patches on the elbows to cover the wear and tear caused by several years of wear. All the other kids had pristine new jackets – mine was ready for me to ‘grow into’… in about ten years.

The worst thing was the shoes.

My brother had expressed a desire for some trendy ‘spoon’ shoes – basically the toe went into a large open circle (much like a spoon). He wore them once and had so much abuse about them that he decided to ditch them. He told our mother they were too small and would be great for Mike – so I was handed these things and told to wear them and get the ‘money’s worth’ out of them.

Never has one child had the piss taken out of him by so many people for such a length of time. I was known as ‘spoony’ for at least three years after they’d worn out.

This has been a topic of some discussion within the offices of JKSL.

Several of our competitors have bought specific machinery to help in their bid to clear Japanese knotweed. They might have bought a screening machine or they may even have modified a screener …and this is their chosen best method of getting rid of your knotweed problem.

In many cases this can work well for everybody involved – client and contractor. Client gets his knotweed removed and the contractor pays for his new but of kit and the monthly payment is covered.

However …do you really think that if contractor ‘A’ looks at your knotweed problem and his ‘flange bucket screener’ isn’t quite the right piece of kit he’s going to go … ‘well actually you need a ‘wobble bucket screener’ and Contractor ‘B’ has one of those – or do you think he will tell you the ‘flange bucket’ is the machine for the job.

Man – he’s gonna use that ‘flange bucket’ till it drops coz it’s costing him £4k a month. He’s gonna ‘flange bucket’ everything in sight because he has to pay for the bloody thing.

Now here at ‘Japanese knotweed Solutions Ltd’ we know that no two knotweed projects are the same. The plant may be older and more established. The plant might be in shallow soil or deep soil. The plant could have spread towards nearby trees or a building or hard surface. There are a million different reasons to use different kit and a different approach.

So, we actually tailor our approach to YOUR site.

We don’t own a ‘flange bucket’ or a ‘wobble bucket’.

We don’t own them, so we don’t have to cover the cost of owning them. And because we don’t have to cover the cost of owning or maintaining these expensive pieces of machinery we can use whatever we want… wherever we want ….by just hiring the CORRECT piece of equipment for YOUR site.

Don’t be sold an ill-fitting solution.

Go bespoke.

Go with JKSL.

Mike C

Like April 11, 2018

What does it take for somebody to actually click on the ‘like’ button?

Let’s talk Instagram or Facebook – we all ‘like’ stuff that our friends put on – pictures of kids, babies, puppies or anything related to your ‘Mum’ will generally get a good response.  If somebody gets badly treated by a shop or a restaurant then the ‘likes’ just go through the roof …

But …what about LinkedIn??

We’re not really ‘friends’ on LinkedIn are we ..? – more of an ‘acquaintance’ or a ‘working relationship’ – more of an ‘on-line’, firm handshake and a quick hello but nothing intimate or personal gets mentioned as it just wouldn’t fit the user profile.

So how does one ever know what people make of Mike Clough ranting away every week?

Believe it or not I get over 2000 people a week reading my blog …but usually get a maximum of just three likes.  So that means that I get a minuscule percentage of people that actually ‘like’ what I write.

Does that mean the other 1997 people don’t like what I’m saying ….or just didn’t click the ‘like’ button?

So as a social experiment can you all either click ‘like’ or send me a note saying ‘don’t like’ then we all know what’s going on?

Thank you…………in anticipation.

Mike C

30 years April 4, 2018

On the 9th April this year my wife and I will have been married for 30 years.

Cue fanfare, music, fireworks … 21-gun salute…I’m expecting a letter off her majesty tbh.

Now those of you that know me will be expecting some wise-ass remark along the lines of … “Married – ha – I’d get a shorter sentence for murder” ….or maybe… “I haven’t said a word to my wife in the last 12 months….I didn’t like to interrupt …”

But – and I’ve got to be honest here – and I can do this because I know she never reads this – getting married was THE best decision I have ever made.  Actually, I say best decision ‘I’ ever made – I doubt very much that I actually made the decision.  I think she told me we were getting married.

Let me take you back in time.

I actually met my wife 35 years ago and was instantly smitten.  Cut-off jeans, Benetton top, hair back-combed to about a foot high and make-up that just went on forever.  Not the tallest lady you’ve ever seen… but boy was she put together well.  All curves in the right places and an attitude that was so fired up.  Her first words to me were … “don’t ever call me cute” …so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last three and half decades – her feet are a size 3 for goodness sake – come on you gotta laugh at those size threes.

My wife has been there through thick and thin.

From starting out in a small office in Stockport and living on the floor – eating McDonalds for breakfast and washing in the sink, to getting invited on a speaking tour of America and getting put up in some of the best hotels… with all expenses paid.

She’s supported me when times have been hard – when businesses have failed (through no fault of our own…) and she’s been there to see the success that hard work and dedication can bring.

She’s never complained about anything – other than me driving too fast – then being a dick and driving too slow… just to wind her up.

She has even given me a mantra to live by –

“If there is something you can do about the problem – then why worry.  If there’s nothing you can do about the problem – then what’s the point worrying.”  She said this to me during one of the shittiest times of my life and to be honest it’s stuck with me through all the rough times – and I’ve often repeated it to people going through difficult periods with their business life.

So, we find ourselves with two kids and a lifetime of pretty much good memories and a wish to just go back and do it all again.  Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing – except maybe the odd occasion when she left me and went back to her mother’s – which she does do, pretty regularly.  But then again, I can be a dick on a pretty regular basis – which seems to coincide with the times that she leaves… so …I can forgive her for that.

I generally pick up that I’m in trouble when I’m too far in to back out – and only realise the danger when she says something along the lines of …. “don’t EVER talk to me like that…” or …. “WHO THE HELL do you think you are …”

At this point it’s a case of damage mitigation and the best thing to do is just stand back and take the barrage that is coming.  I’ve never learned how to avoid these situations but maybe have mellowed a little over the years and don’t get myself in quite as much shit as I used to ….?

Still happens though.

I think we’re a pretty good team and could never imagine not having her in my life.

So, here’s to the next 30 – thanks Pam.

Mike C