The Nature of Nomenclature September 30, 2019

So, you’re all highly-qualified horticulturalist and biologists, just like me, and looking forward to some technical discussion? Well, as it happens, I don’t even have a GCSE in biology (my teacher was … well, let’s say we didn’t see eye-to-eye…).

I have come to the study of plants somewhat later in life than I might have done without Mr Duffy’s intervention, and find it genuinely fascinating. I have learned about crops, nutrition, pests, diseases, cultural control, biodiversity, environmental stewardship and some of the specifics of plant biology, as well as how to name plants (which particularly resonates with the English teacher part of me, given its specific requirements on capitalisation).

The beginnings of the modern system of plant naming are usually traced back to Linnaeus’ 1753 work ‘Species Plantarum’, which (re-)introduced the two-part “binomial” names that we use nowadays for all species, like Tyrannosaurus rex, Homo sapiens and favourites of mine, the “tautonyms”, whose generic and specific names are the same, including Bubo bubo, Pica pica, Banjos banjos and Mops mops. Plants are unfortunately prohibited from having tautonyms.

In this system, “families” of plants are grouped together – and under Linnaeus, this was done principally through his method of counting the number of stamens within the flower of the plant – which predictably wasn’t exactly 100% accurate in drawing up a reliable family tree.

Furthermore, drawing the lines between different species is no less complicated in the plant world than the animal kingdom, where some separate “species” who generally breed among their own can still create hybrids between them. Japanese knotweed can hybridise with Sakhalin knotweed and even Russian vine, for example.

While, unsurprisingly, the living world is no respecter of the order we humans (try to) impose on it, molecular biology has resulted in huge jumps in understanding the “tree of life” – particularly in terms of what species diverged from what else and when (a study known as phylogenetics). This understanding has thrown up some unexpected results, to go with some long-understood but counter-intuitive relationships. For example: the tuna is, genetically-speaking, more closely related to a seahorse than it is to a marlin or a sailfish; owls are more closely related to crocodiles, lizards and sea turtles than they are to bats; a salmon is more closely related to a human than it is to a shark; and mushrooms are more closely related to humans than they are to plants!

Many of the phylogenetic groupings have resulted in continued re-ordering of the tree of plant life as it was formerly understood, particularly in Species Plantarum – dividing some species formerly thought to be close relatives, and re-uniting long-lost cousins (aww!).

So, it currently is with the “official” name of Japanese knotweed, which some argue should be “Reynoutria japonica”, rather than the more common name (in the UK at least) “Fallopia japonica”. I have always known the plant as “officially” Fallopia japonica but ask an American, and it may well always have been “Reynoutria japonica” for them. Go back in time and you would see the plant widely referred to as “Polygonum cuspidatum”, the name given to the plant in 1846 by Philip van Siebold, who is credited with bringing Japanese knotweed to the West.

Consensus isn’t even common amongst experts, with many websites including CABI still listing the plant as Fallopia japonica but Wikipedia (the official resolver of pub disputes across the land) headlining with Reynoutria japonica, as do Kew Gardens.

Like all of the natural world, things don’t neatly fit into boxes, and particularly in the plant world, this kind of move from one box to another isn’t actually that uncommon – there is a set of rules called the ICN which determine how a plant should be named, and which covers how disputes should be managed.

Japanese knotweed falls very much into disputed territory, with the various alternative names (or “synonyms” being subject to debate). The website curated by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew lists fully nineteen binomial synonyms for Japanese knotweed, in the genera Fallopia, Pleuropterus, Polygonum and Reynoutria.

So forgive me if Japanese Knotweed Solutions don’t rush to change all of our marketing materials – but if you start reading our site and think we’re not all on the same page or don’t know one genus from another, please bear with us while we wait for our phylogenetecists to stop counting stamens long enough to liaise with our search-engine-optimisation team.

“Science” doesn’t get any simpler, or more sensible, really, does it?

Chris Oliver
Operations Manager
Japanese Knotweed Solutions

CPD banned. September 25, 2019

My current CPD has been officially complained about.

The current format is described as ‘offensive and horrific’.

Now you’re interested aren’t you??

For appointments to see the presentation in its full uncensored format contact Suzanne hardy at JKSL.

Mike C

Fame…. September 18, 2019

I’m gonna live forever…

Remember my name, fame.’

How did the rest of the song go…?

…but how will I be remembered …if at all??

Maybe somebody will say, on reading of my demise ‘wasn’t that the knotweed bloke?’ – will that be the sum of my obituary?? The bloke that spent his days talking about invasive plants and flagging up the battle for our native countryside??

Maybe somebody will say ‘that was the bloke that wrote that daft blog every week.’

Maybe somebody will say ‘that was the bloke with the flash cars.’

Hopefully a couple of people will say ‘that was my dad, he was a great dad, he gave me money when I was broke …’

I suppose it could be worse??

You wouldn’t want to not be remembered…. you’d rather that something registered in people’s minds when you move onto that great onward journey – whether it be upward or downward.

My dad passed away a few years ago but before he died, he had a major stroke which initially rendered him less able to walk and talk. During these few months of recovery we had some deep conversations about the meaning of life and tried to put some thoughts together as to ‘what it’s all about’…

His opinion was that once we were dead that was ‘it’. No afterlife, no strumming away on a harp sat on a cloud – once you’re gone, you’re gone. His thoughts were that if during your life you could leave people with happy memories of you – then when they thought about you, they would remember you in a good way – and hence you would be immortalised.

I also guess you wouldn’t want to be remembered for something bad – like Brexit or pressing the wrong button at Chernobyl…

So maybe I should just focus on not doing anything bad before I pop off.

I think this a pretty good way of thinking about it…

Soooo…that would be ….no lap dancing clubs, no fast cars, no drinking too much, no flash restaurants ….

Aaarrgghh what am I going to do with myself???

Mike – in a melancholy mood – Clough

Marketing fail…. September 11, 2019

Apparently, people don’t like me.

My wife doesn’t like me, my brother doesn’t like me and it appears some of my customers don’t like me.

Shock horror.

I’ve always gone down the route that for every 1 person that I annoy perhaps another 20 will think positively of my personality.

Luckily my mum still thinks I’m great.

From a marketing point of view at JKSL we’ve gone down the route of trying to catch people’s attention and getting them talking about invasive species.

We have vans with zombies on, we’ve got a man with knotweed growing out of his head and we’ve got stills from the ‘mission impossible’ films….

The website is unique, the literature that we disseminate is all designed to provoke and stimulate discussion – but …. not everyone likes it.

We’ve always done things this way… and we always will.

Recently we lost a project on the basis that the customer didn’t like our van. She stated that we were the best price but she wasn’t going to use us because our van advertised the problems of invasive species and she didn’t like us making a business out of problem plants.

She suggested that we change our marketing strategy.

I was recently approached by a large environmental company with a view to JKSL being bought by said group.

They suggested that I change my marketing strategy.

Can I suggest to everyone that until I am carried out feet first from the office I will continue to shock and awe the market with unique and bespoke ideas that others will try …yet fail ….to copy.

It’s what I enjoy doing and will continue to do so.

Without JKSL raising the profile of these problem plants there probably would not be the level of public awareness that there now is.

Getting problems discussed and out in the open is the first step to resolving these issues.

Hiding things away and taking in hushed tones …does not help.

Mike C

HSE Workplace Fatality Statistics September 9, 2019

First of all, when talking about health and safety at work, and particularly the sort of statistics referred to in this blog, it’s very important to remember that these are not just statistics – literally every case here represents a real and regrettable loss of life and a trauma to the family and friends of a real person who lost their life at their workplace. My sympathies go out to all concerned, and I hope that those who read on will understand that this blog is not intended in any way to diminish that.

The HSE recently released its annual statistics on workplace fatalities, revealing that 147 workers were killed in 2018-19 in workplace accidents.

As a health and safety practitioner, there is a need to look at this information dispassionately and to try to learn from it. For the health and safety community at large, we must try to use this information to improve and to try to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

I genuinely believe that the UK government and all employers should aim to make our country a place where nobody dies in a workplace incident and at the same time, it’s important to acknowledge how much good work is done in the UK to ensure that we have some of the lowest workplace injury and fatality rates in the world.

Analysing these statistics from Japanese Knotweed Solutions’ point of view, it is significant to note that our own works intersect significantly with some of the highest-risk sectors in the UK economy – particularly Construction but also Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing. JKSL do a lot of work on construction, civils and other development sites, but we also work on agricultural land and we carry out arboriculture, vegetation clearance and other related activities. While we don’t deal directly with fisheries, a lot of our works on rivers, canals and other watercourses intersect directly with aquatic habitats – with the attendant risks.

In addition, it is important for us to consider that where our works are on construction sites, or where we are carrying out mechanical remediation of invasive plant species, there are significant hazards present which represent the main kinds of fatal accidents for workers – particularly falls from height and moving vehicles.

It is also important for us, as an age-inclusive employer, to note that even though in health and safety practice, younger people are generally seen as being at greater risk of accidents in the workplace, the rate of fatal injuries among the 55-59 age group is more than double the rate for those aged 16-34. As workers get older, that rate increases hugely, with the accident rate for workers aged 60-64 being more than double the average rate, and for workers over 65, this doubles again – to four times the average and almost eight times the average for workers aged 16-34.

Interestingly, there are two particular categories of work-related deaths which are recorded but which aren’t included in this report – both of which are significant for JKSL.

Asbestos is a major health hazard, causing cancers and other lung problems. Even though the use of asbestos-containing materials in construction was outlawed in the UK in 1999 (following a partial ban in 1985), asbestos-containing materials continue to be widespread – particularly in schools where it is thought that over 90% of school buildings in England contain asbestos. Asbestos is also commonly found on demolished or derelict sites and is also prevalent where fly-tipping is common – areas where Japanese knotweed is also particularly rife.

Mesothelioma is a specific form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, with a long “lead time”. It can take up to 40 years for cases of mesothelioma to develop following asbestos exposure. This form of cancer caused 2,523 deaths in 2017, with similar numbers predicted each year until numbers are expected to decline after 2020.

It is also significant to note that the gender distribution of mesothelioma cases – with 2,084 deaths in males and 439 in females. Males continue to be at higher risk of developing mesothelioma, with just under 2,000 new cases assessed in 2017 in males and just under 250 in females.

The other category of fatality which is not included in the HSE statistics is that of road traffic accidents, where 529 people were killed in collisions involving someone driving at work. Obviously, this is a stark comparison with the 145 fatalities across all of the UK’s workplaces, making road traffic accidents by far the largest single cause of death related to the workplace.

Comparing data on non-fatal accidents in the workplace with the statistics for road traffic accidents, we find that traffic incidents are much more likely to result in fatalities – with the total number of work-related road casualties in 2016 totalling 44,048 – around one tenth the number of workplace injuries, but obviously resulting in a much higher total number of fatalities.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given the factors of speed and the size and weight of motor vehicles – however, when digging deep on the statistics, work-related road traffic accidents actually resulted in the relatively small figure of 18 passengers and 84 drivers who were actually the person at work when the incident happened. 427 of the 529 killed in collisions involving a driver or rider driving for work were other road uses (including cyclists and pedestrians).

While we can’t influence the statistics, and we can’t do anything for the real people they represent, analysis like this is important for industry and the UK as a whole in its goals to reduce and prevent workplace accidents.

Chris Oliver
Operations Manager

Insect shortage …? September 4, 2019

I’m not a great fan of insects.

When I say, ‘I’m not a fan’ – I need to clarify what I’m talking about. I’m one of those people that run ‘warm’ – as in – I’m always sweaty.

One of the things that you have to get used to when you’re a sweaty bugger – is being loved by all insects that bite or sting.

Horseflies, midges, wasps – all love me and all target me throughout the season. My lovely wife walks along beside me they have no interest in her at all – even though she always smells better than I do. She never gets bitten; she never gets bothered – me…. covered in bites.

However, despite my lack of love for these flying nightmares – I do recognise the environmental importance of these creatures. Every one of god’s creatures has a role, and without them the whole world starts to go a bit ‘tits up’. When we start messing with nature – this is when we start to get problems.

Soooo…. I’m slightly concerned about a current lack of insects.

Do you remember how you used to have to clean your cars windscreen of dead flies? You’d arrive home and it would look like you’d been on some sort of insect killing spree in a scene from the movie ‘Zombies Ate my Dog’ …bits of wing, leg, brain, blood …all splattered into an unrecognizable goo that had then set like concrete on your car bonnet?

When was the last time this happened to you?

I know it’s not a bad thing that you don’t have to clean all the crap off your precious motor. But …what I’m saying is…. this cannot be a good sign for our environment. In a world where insects are disappearing I would suggest that there’s more going on than we are aware of?

What’s killing the insects?

Farmers with their insecticide sprays? More chemicals in the environment…

Whatever it is – it’s not good.

Next week: Slugs –

Mike C