Should controlling Japanese Knotweed be a land management priority?

The possibility of a golf course being found liable for the spread of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) from its land to an adjoining property is now a real possibility following a recent Court of Appeal Judgement. The case dates back to 2015 when a claim was issued against Network Rail by the owners of adjoining semi-detached bungalows. The owners argued that the presence of the weed on Network Rail’s land encroached on their properties and interfered with the quiet enjoyment of their land causing a loss of amenity. This, in turn, reduced the market value of the properties. The court agreed with the arguments and, in a judgment handed down last year, found that Network Rail’s breach of duty had caused both damage and a continuing nuisance. Network Rail subsequently challenged this ruling in the Court of Appeal, however, the original judgment was upheld and although the Court based this decision on different reasons than the original case, the result remains the same. Essentially, the judgment puts all owners of land infected with knotweed on notice to take proper action to ensure their knotweed does not encroach onto or threaten other property. Those that continue to ignore the effects of their inaction and impinge upon their neighbour’s enjoyment of their property are now forewarned. The law is clear and substantial damages can be awarded against them. It is also worth noting that a defence in nuisance is that all reasonable measures are being taken to mitigate the nuisance. A half-hearted or cheap attempt at control is unlikely to meet the ‘reasonable measures’ test. This judgment will have far-reaching implications for owners of land affected by Japanese knotweed. Not only will they be responsible for the spread of the plant on to a neighbouring property, they will also be able to pursue the owners of adjoining land if they can be proved to be the original source of the problem. Obviously, that same nuisance could be extended to the likes of Giant Hogweed  (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Himalayan Balsam  (Impatiens glandulifera) and other damaging invasive species.
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