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23rd July 2018
Giant hogweed – contact with this species can cause severe burns. Giant hogweed – contact with this species can cause severe burns.

Recently, Japanese knotweed has been discussed widely due to fresh research on the impact of the species; studies have found that in the property industry, it does not cause as much damage as has been believed for years. Giant Hogweed, however, presents much different discussions – whilst the discourse surrounding both species is considerably hysterical, for Giant Hogweed, this is because quite simply, the species presents a threat to human health – Japanese knotweed does not. In fact, Japanese knotweed has even been hailed as a rhubarb-y, anti-oxidant rich vegetable that goes nicely in a crumble!

This week, reports of a teen in Virginia, US, shocked the media.[1] The seventeen-year old had to be transferred to a specialist burns unit, demonstrating just how serious the effects of Giant Hogweed are – he suffered third degree burns, from a plant?! The sap of the plant contains chemicals called furanocoumarins, and when in direct contact with the skin, in conjunction with sunlight, an intense condition occurs – blisters and burns can last for months, with sensitivity to sunlight lasting for years after the initial contact. Blindness can even occur from contact with the eyes.

Particularly noteworthy about this incident, is that this was reportedly the state of Virginia’s first recording of the species – Giant Hogweed is so problematic not only due to its risks to public health, but due to its highly invasive nature; the plant is widespread across the UK after being introduced from the Caucasus region in the nineteenth century, in much the same way as Japanese knotweed – the plant was deemed an ornamental marvel with its large clusters of white flowers. Biodiversity is decreased wherever it chooses to tower – it relentlessly outcompetes native flora, and like its fellow non-native invasive plant, Himalayan balsam, can cause river bank erosion when it dies back, and creates flood risks if the dead vegetation impedes river flow.

How can we raise awareness of this harmful species? It seems that many articles reporting people being burned by Giant Hogweed, did not know what they had accidentally bumped into, and after the event, did not know what was to come. Giant Hogweed is listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (rev. 2) Schedule 9; this means that it is an offence to plant the species or otherwise cause it to spread in the wild. Councils provide information on the species and the dangers associated with it, but awareness seems to be garnered through the tales of extreme burns – after someone has been hurt by the plant. So, could the media frenzy surrounding Giant Hogweed actually be of use with this species? As already discussed, Japanese knotweed does not pose a public health threat; perhaps the reporting of Giant Hogweed injuries is the best way to create awareness and in turn, action?

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/giant-hogweed-burns-virginia-alex-childress-poisonous-effects-toxic-plant-a8450226.html

Lauren Tomlinson

Sales Support Executive, Ebsford Environmental Ltd

16th July 2018

Japanese knotweed - The root of the problemJapanese knotweed could not be more of a hot topic right now… in April of this year, Swansea University released findings from their three-year trial of nineteen control methods – of which was heavily misinterpreted by the media – headlines of ‘Japanese knotweed cannot be eradicated’ ensued. More recently, the Court of Appeal gave its’ judgement on the case of Waistell v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd – they upheld last year’s ruling in favour or Mr. Waistell and Mr. Williams, dismissing Network Rail’s appeal. We have also had the study showing that only 19% of Brits can identify Japanese knotweed. Furthermore, research from the University of Leeds seems to be removing some sensationalism from Japanese knotweed.

The conversation surrounding the ubiquitous species has been dominated by scaremongering and hysteria for a long time, and no doubt will not end in 2018 – the Daily Mail alone has referred to the species as ‘the fearsome interloper’, a ‘superweed’, ‘insidious invader’, and described gardens as ‘under siege’. This narrative has arguably led to panic amongst homeowners for years, with worries of Japanese knotweed strangling residents in their sleep, or, pushing its’ way through tarmac and brick. With a whirlwind of opinions and facts and often nonsense out there, it is understandably difficult to make sense of what we know about Japanese knotweed.

So – many articles claimed that the Swansea findings demonstrated that Japanese knotweed cannot be ‘cured’. Japanese knotweed is a plant, and the language used here just doesn’t fit – how does one cure a plant, I wonder? And indeed, language is important – the findings did show that the species could not be eradicated – a term which, in the industry, we do try to avoid – ‘management’ or ‘control’ is more appropriate when speaking of herbicidal treatment. But again, Japanese knotweed garnered interest through actual research, and scaremongering followed.

The Network Rail case has also created conversation in a different way – this case has created somewhat of a ‘case study’ in Japanese knotweed and the law. The damages awarded were interpreted slightly differently following the dismissal of Network Rail’s appeal – the court highlighted the interference with the amenity value of the land – the homeowners’ ability to enjoy their land had been diminished.

Here’s what Nick Hartley, our Managing Director, had to say on the case:

“Ebsford have been watching the case with interest and are pleased that there does appear to finally be some clarity on the situation of encroachment. It remains our opinion that landowners should take their responsibilities seriously and look to work with their neighbours in cases where Japanese knotweed is proven to have the potential to damage or diminish properties.

We do however have concerns over the ruling stating that encroachment alone can diminish enjoyment and hope that this does not lead to spurious claims against landowners who make reasonable attempts to control the issue. Japanese knotweed has such a presence throughout the U.K that a more collaborative and structured approach surely now needs to be adopted.”

Charles Lyndon, who represented the claimants, have hailed the case as ‘a victory for homeowners’ – time will tell if this case will encourage institutions such as Network Rail to take their responsibilities surrounding invasive species more seriously.

Is the narrative really changing?

One could argue that for the experts, no – a reputable Japanese knotweed contractor will not partake in the hysteria narrative of the species. But with research taking place, and the highly publicised landmark ruling in the Network Rail case, conversation around knotweed is coming to the fore, and seems to be on the whole, from a different angle to the “invasion of the alien knotweed” Daily Mail nonsense of times gone by.

Ecologists from AECOM and the University of Leeds have reportedly found no evidence that Japanese knotweed causes significant structural damage. Where does this stigma come from? A general reluctance to lend mortgages on affected properties along with RICS’ guidance on Japanese knotweed in terms of its’ proximity to built structures was based on the knowledge that the species’ rhizomes spread as far as seven metres laterally and therefore, if close enough, could damage the integrity of said built structure. Property values have been affected by this considerably. However, this new research arguably blows this out of the water.

Dr Karen Bacon of the University of Leeds said this:

“Japanese knotweed is capable of damaging built structures, but where this occurs, it is usually because an existing weakness or defect has been exacerbated.”

Will this research alleviate any of the frenzy surrounding Japanese knotweed? All research in the field should be welcomed and the discussion widened to include studies such as this – all of this will help to separate facts from scaremongering in the media, and constantly address the issues that the species does cause in a knowledgeable manner. It is ultimately our duty as a professional and reputable Japanese knotweed contractor to be honest and clear with our clients at all times – Japanese knotweed does pose many problems to biodiversity and creates a barrier to development, and these issues should be conveyed.

Lauren Tomlinson

Sales Support Executive, Ebsford Environmental Ltd

04th September 2017

Canal and Rivers Trust dredgingSpecialist environmental contractor Ebsford Environmental have been appointed by the Canal & River Trust to a national framework designed to support the maintenance and protection of 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.

After a competitive tender process, Ebsford were selected to provide minor works which will support the Trust’s 10-year National Dredging Contract.

Ebsford will be providing specialist spot dredging across the Trust’s waterways to keep them open for navigation as well as improving wildlife habitats. They will also be assisting the Trust with maintenance to improve the flow between its reservoirs and canals.

Nick Hartley, Managing Director, Ebsford Environmental Ltd, says: “The appointment of Ebsford onto a framework of this nature is testament to the reputation we are gaining for being able to provide an exceptional standard of work which balances the environment, waste management and ecological constraints whilst still offering a competitive solution. It’s an honour to be able to provide long term services to such an historic and integral network and we look forward to commencing works in the very near future.”

Ian Marmont, framework contract manager from the Canal & River Trust comments: “Ebsford Environmental submitted an impressive and innovative tender which will support the Trust to deliver a substantial programme of works going forward.”

Known for their environmentally sensitive dredging solutions Ebsford will pay particular attention to providing a non-invasive, sustainable and affordable solutions using low impact machinery and techniques.

08th February 2017

Social media and the industry is “awash” with regurgitation of the news that Network Rail have lost a case relating to Japanese knotweed, with words like “game changer” being used. However, nobody seems to be elaborating further what this could potentially mean and the issues it could have.

Let me start by saying I do on the whole welcome the news, NWR as a land owner should be taking their responsibilities seriously and in an ideal world treating and eradicating Japanese knotweed, but is that realistic? Well let’s look at some numbers.

There are 16,000km of railways in the UK and it’s safe to assume that much of that is infested by Japanese knotweed. As embankments are on both sides then this is 32,000km of potential habitat. Even if we are unrealistically cautious let’s just say that 10% of this has JK or other schedule 9 vegetation present. The embankments are on average at least 5m so simple maths is 32,000km x 1000m x 5m / 10 = 16,000,000 sqm of areas potentially contaminated with JK. In my experience the cheapest economy of scale we have given for a commercial eradication program worked our around £4 per sqm, so the cost of eradication of this would be £64,000,000.00!!!!

Japanese knotweed

However, it doesn’t stop here, back to the news story not only was treatment required but the court awarded the costs of an IBG which added £5,000 to the bill, no admittedly this seems a crazy cost but if it included a monitoring program and there was risk of re-infestation from up rail then certainly a £2,500 cost is realistic. Now calculating this would be nearly impossible but I’ve started with this number game now so let’s make some more assumptions. If we have 32,000km then 90% of this would be rural I expect, but 10% again would be urban and near the tracks. Interestingly it is these areas that are much more likely to have JK present. So let’s say there are properties near 3,200km of track, each property is in the region of 10m wide so that could be 320,000 properties. Insurance backed guarantees for these would cost £800,000,000.

So it’s simple really, NWR have to put a strategy in place to avoid being sued to treat 16,000,000 of knotweed and issue 320,000 insurance backed guarantees. They should do it straight away because the problem is only going to get worse. All they need is £864,000,000 to do it. Oh and 1 guy can probably only treat 100 sqm per day because of closures and such so if they employed 100 people to start tomorrow then it would only take 5 years, oh but then it’s probably a 5-year program so 10 years with an annual cost of £86,000,000.

Now these numbers are all essentially complete guesswork, but what it does do is show the position Network Rail are in and probably why they have to take the stance they do. I may be in the minority who has some sympathy for them, however, perhaps the stance over legalities is because of the impact this would have on the cost of maintaining the network and not just because they don’t care. In fact, in my experience its quite the opposite. A NWR representative has been present at every conference, workshop or symposium relating to Japanese knotweed but the honest answer is that it’s too far gone to be able to do anything than manage what is in front of you the best you can.

I can’t see personally that increasing the exposure and costs of treatment with legal rulings is going to help the situation, however, I also do not in any way support a slackening of the law, all I ever seem to do is promote maybe a middle ground where landowners are expected to do something but that this is supported by mortgage lenders, developers, contractors and homeowners and just doesn’t turn into another mis-selling scandal. The day I get a text message or listen to talk sport and hear an advert for JK lawyers is the day I turn in my knapsack*

*NB I don’t have a knapsack, the reference to a knapsack was purely for effect.

25th January 2017

Ebsford Environmental Ltd has been honoured at the National Apprenticeship Awards following our regional success at Octobers North East, Yorkshire and Humber event.

Ebsford were invited to the National Apprentice Awards ceremony held at the London Grosvenor Hotel. We were extremely proud to be announced as the winners against some other great employers. The award was presented to us in recognition of our commitment to developing young people through apprenticeships.

We have also been named in the prestigious Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list. This is compiled annually by the National Apprenticeship Service and recognises excellence in businesses that employ apprentices.

Having begun our apprentice program in 2011, seven of our 29 staff are or have been apprentices in the business occupying roles within marketing, customer services, administration and environmental conservation.

We are very proud of our achievement, it is great reward for the dedication our apprentices have shown and for the commitment we have made to nurturing all our employees. We look forward to further developing our apprentice and graduate schemes as the business continues to grow.

On accepting the award, Nick Hartley, Managing Director, Ebsford Environmental Ltd, says: “We started offering apprenticeships shortly after we set up the business in 2011 and so far we have a 100% retention rate. Offering apprenticeships has enabled our business to grow rapidly from £50,000 in the first year to £3 million a year turnover.

“It’s not just the business that benefits, as an environmental company we want to show we are committed to the local community and make our workforce sustainable. Through offering structured training we can ensure sustainable growth of the business whilst simultaneously improving youth unemployment in the area.

“We believe apprenticeships are one of the best and most rewarding ways of finding staff; you are changing people’s lives in a way that you don’t get just by giving someone a job. As a business owner you are recruiting young people at a crucial stage in their development, especially in socially deprived areas and using that is a fascinating way to grow the business.”

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