Spread of Japanese knotweed - a legal problem?

Green knotweed leaves

The County Court decision on the case of Williams v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd February 2017 demonstrates the perils of allowing known invasive species of plant to spread onto neighbouring land.

The court found that Network Rail had caused an ‘actionable nuisance’ by failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of Japanese knotweed from its railway embankment to neighbouring houses. National Rail was ordered to pay each claimant damages to treat the knotweed and compensate homeowners for the fall in value of their homes.  The Claimant’s bungalow, which was previously worth £135,000, is now valued at £69,000. Crucially, the judge stressed that, if Network Rail failed to get rid of the knotweed, the Claimants could claim for the full drop in the value of their homes

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant, first introduced to Britain by the Victorians. Its rapidly spreading roots (rhizomes) can damage foundations. Consequently, it can affect the value of your property, its insurability and its marketability.

The Williams v Network Rail case is notable because it determined that:

  • Japanese knotweed was an ‘actionable nuisance’ before it caused physical damage to the neighbouring land, because it effected the amenity value of that land and reduced its value
  • The court decided that Network Rail understood the potential impact of Japanese knotweed and the damage it can cause

Until this decision, there was no requirement on landowners to remove the source of the knotweed infestation but only to remove it from the land it has spread to.

So, what should you do if you find Japanese knotweed on your property? Unless it spreads, you’re not required to remove Japanese knotweed from your own land but you may be liable to pay compensation for an adjacent owner’s loss along the lines of above. Worse still, you may be subject to a continuing injunction against re-infestation. Disposing of Japanese knotweed is an expensive and time-consuming process, but dealing with it proactively could save you a lot of bother in the long run.

This article was originally published in July 2017 in the British Farmer & Grower - the NFU’s award-winning members’ magazine: https://www.nfuonline.com/home/magazine/

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