It is a great honour to be elected to the Chairmanship of the Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA).
I would like to start by giving an overview of how we have arrived at the current position.
The early days of our industry in the United Kingdom involved a small handful of companies that had, in the course of their own works, recognised the need for dedicated management of invasive plant species. Most of the initial focus related to Japanese knotweed, because of the attention being given to a plant which was causing physical damage to buildings and delaying, damaging or devaluing development.
Whilst it would be great to be able to suggest that it was the environmental damage caused by Japanese knotweed that caused concern – the truth is that it was principally the cost implications of ignoring this plant that led to knotweed becoming the focus of developers, then lenders and then being heralded as Britain’s most problematic plant.
Initially there were no specific processes that were accepted as the approved method of eradication and a variety of innovative techniques were deployed in what was, at times, very much a ‘scatter gun’ approach in order to find reliable strategies. Some companies sprayed one chemical, some sprayed another, some recommended multiple visits and others suggested shorter timescales and higher dosages of herbicide. All had varied success.
The introduction of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981 defined in law which species of invasive plants were deemed to be problematic and the Act made it illegal to plant or allow these species to spread. This was then followed by the Japanese Knotweed Code of Practice, written by Mr Trevor Renals and released by the Environment Agency. Heavy fines could be imposed on people or businesses that ignored the regulations and the industry had a clear set of rules which should be followed.
Agrochemical companies brought out new products and contractors became more creative with acronyms and application strategies.
Insurance became a hot potato, with companies offering “ten-year guarantees”, then “twenty-year guarantees”, then “lifetime guarantees”. These offers were not backed by insurance and were simply in-house products presented on a piece of letterhead with a fancy edge drawn on to give the impression of a legally binding document. Most, if not all, of these products were worthless.
It was at this point that many reputable contractors began to feel uncomfortable with the quality of service and advice being given by newcomers to the market. Television and newspaper articles had demonised Japanese knotweed and a plethora of new companies jumped onto the bandwagon of invasive plant control.
Companies were offering “secret” mixes of chemicals that “only they” had access to – despite the limited range of products available and the legal requirement that only approved pesticides could be used. Images of back pack sprayers with volatile chemical combinations were rife, with the potential environmental damage being inestimable.
Clients were increasingly unable to understand the various strategies and insurances that were being offered and the overall impact was a loss of faith in what was being said.
It was at this point that a group of concerned individuals – competitors in the market place, but united by concern for the future of their industry – decided to join forces to try to bring some sanity to the industry. INNSA was born.
As well as new companies flooding into the market, many existing companies moved into the industry who held qualifications in pesticides application through their work with damp proofing and timber preservation. These companies had experience of chemicals and had experience of the insurance products required by mortgage companies in relation to their areas of expertise.
INNSA did spend some significant time, effort and money securing insurance products for its members, both for domestic and commercial projects, but take-up from members was relatively low, reflecting the lack of direct interest in products which were principally brought into the market to satisfy lenders looking to protect lending on domestic products.
The INNSA membership’s focus on larger commercial sites meant that these products were generally being used for housebuilders and the relatively small proportion of their turnover that came from domestic clients.
It is becoming increasingly clear over the first decade of INNSA’s existence that the membership is focussed on the bigger jobs and bigger clients in the industry – and therefore that INNSA itself must focus on retaining and attracting those members who have the capability to deliver at this more specialised end of the industry.
I aim for my chairmanship not to be characterised by the pursuit of large numbers of new members, catering for lenders and domestic clients or the investment of more of INNSA’s resources into obtaining additional insurance products; I want to focus on the quality and capability of INNSA’s membership, who I view as the best in the industry.