HL Deb 29 April 1999 vol 600 cc434-5

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to curb the spread of Japanese knotweed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, Japanese knotweed is a large, vigorous weed. It is a non-native introduction which appears to have no natural enemies in Britain. The Government recognise the potential harm that its presence can cause to other species. Under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to plant Japanese knotweed, or cause it to grow, in the wild.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that the increasing menace of this nine-foot plant is variously described as a marriage of super weeds swamping the countryside and also as a rash of sexual activity leading to a triffid-like invasion of the country, gardens, river banks etc.? It will also grow through concrete. Will the Minister increase the funding to the Environment Agency and other agencies which are trying to deal with this terrible problem?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the Environment Agency has undertaken research and has produced an extremely important and valuable leaflet which includes details of other pervasive species that are damaging watercourses such as giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam. I commend the work done by the city and county of Swansea which has worked closely with the Environment Agency for Wales. I also commend the work of Pembrokeshire County Council which is working in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The problem does not appear to be one of additional funding but of targeting the activities of those agencies which have power to act in this regard.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, do the Government have a list of the total number of this country's endangered species which are being threatened by alien species? Is the Minister aware of the recent so-called "X-files" order instituted by President Clinton in the United States which seeks to enable the Government there to deal with alien species which threaten up to 50 per cent of the endangered species of the United States?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in its news release of 14th December 1998 entitled Doomsday for Wildlife the World Wide Fund for Nature claimed that there is a whole range of species under threat. The work that has been carried out does not appear to suggest that Japanese knotweed is killing natural habitats where it is brought under control. We hope that that work and the work that is being done on biodiversity projects will help to combat the problem the noble Baroness has mentioned.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, are we to be told when this knotweed is not a weed?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I know not.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I cannot even attempt to top that! Is the Minister aware of the difficulty of controlling this weed, particularly with regard to watercourses where chemical sprays have been found to be one of the few methods of controlling it? When it gets a hold, I believe it grows through concrete. However, it is the watercourses that constitute a particular worry in this regard.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the watercourses are a worry. The Environment Agency has issued guidance on control of Japanese knotweed, including the use of specialised and limited chemical agents. A colleague who is not in the Box at present advised me when I was briefed on this subject that she has a real problem with Japanese knotweed in her London garden. She has discovered that the roots go down 17 feet. It is a major scourge.

Lord McNair

My Lords, will the Minister convey to the agencies that will target this problem that if they wish to target the Japanese knotweed that I have in my garden in Wales they will be welcome to do so?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Yes, my Lords.