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Weeds and the law

Author: James Sutherland

Over the years there have been a number of pernicious weeds which have caused problems for property owners, developers and gardeners and the following are probably the most well known:

Oxford Ragwort

A small yellow flower much loved by caterpillars but poisonous to cattle and most wildlife.  It was introduced from Sicily around 1700 escaped from Oxford University in 1720 and spread along rail and waterways throughout the country.

Rosebay Willow Herb

This is a pretty pink plant also known as Fireweed that can grow up to  1½ metres in height.  There is debate as to whether it is an introduced species as there are records going back to the 1600’s of its existence in Yorkshire and Northumberland.  Once established it is very difficult to eradicate due to the fact that its large number of airborne seeds are viable for up to 18 months.

Japanese Knotweed

An unmistakable plant with noded stems, large oval leaves and spikes of white flowers.  It can grow up to 3 metres and rapidly spreads over large areas.  It is listed as one of the world’s worst invasive species and can cause damage to foundations, buildings, roads, drains, flood embankments, walls and paving.  It is extremely difficult to eradicate as it has both a deep and large root spread.  It can also survive extremes of heat and cold, acidity and alkalinity and re-sprouts within days of being cut down.  The only two solutions are extensive excavation or a programme of treatment with herbicides over a period of years.

So what has the spread of invasive plants got to do with the law?

Well until very recently not a lot. In the past property owners who took pride in their gardens would take whatever steps were necessary to either remove or control the invasive weeds and plants and encourage or even help their neighbours to do the same.  If they or their neighbours were unco-operative a Solicitors letter often sufficed and in the case of unco-operative property owners proceedings could be brought in tort for private nuisance or allowing the escape of dangerous chattels.

What’s new?

Recently Mr Waistell and his neighbour, Mr Williams, from South Wales won a case against Network Rail for failing to eradicate a 600 sqm clump of knotweed along the railway embankment behind their homes. This had allowed the knotweed to spread into their back gardens and work its way into the foundations, blighting the sale of the properties. The Knotweed has since been eradicated however the case sets a precedent where the owner of one property wants to get the owner of another to remove invasive plants or weeds.

We at Atherton Godfrey have had some experience in dealing with both sides of the Knotweed problem and if you would like further information please contact our Property department – call 01302 320621 or email


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