Cork County Council should have the power to go on to private land to tackle invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed because some landowners are ignoring calls to eradicate them.
That’s the opinion of some councillors who say that while the local authority is doing a good job of destroying Japanese knotweed in public areas, it can’t tackle the plants growing inside roadside ditches on private land.
Several councillors described the frustration in many communities where landowners don’t bother to take action, especially as Japanese knotweed can destroy buildings.
The issue was raised by Cllr Seamus McGrath who sought a written report from the council’s environment section outlining what options are open to property owners in circumstances where an adjacent private landholding has Japanese knotweed and the owners are not acting to treat it.
Louis Duffy, head of the environment section, said that the legislation dealing with this issue is primarily contained in the Wildlife Acts, 1976 to 2012, and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, 2011 to 2015.
This legislation basically says any person who plants, disperses, allows or causes to disperse, spreads, or otherwise causes to grow scheduled plant species shall be guilty of an offence. However, under these statutes, local authorities have no enforcement powers in relation to invasive species growing on private land.
Mr Duffy said that under the legislation it is the National Parks and Wildlife Service which is the primary regulatory and enforcement authority.
Mr McGrath said he has received several complaints from property owners who are worried that untreated Japanese knotweed is threatening their properties because some landowners don’t care about its presence: “The report clarifies that the enforcement authority is the National Parks and Wildlife Service and we should write to them to see what type of enforcement is being carried out, which I suspect is little.”
Cllr Joe Harris said there is an issue with a parcel of land in Douglas which is infested with Japanese knotweed.
“We can’t ascertain who owns it. It has the potential to infect a number of adjoining residences and two businesses. I’ve never heard of the National Parks and Wildlife enforcing anything,” said Mr Harris.
Cllr Marcia D’Alton said she’s also received a number of complaints from worried property owners: “I have tried to help individuals and have contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service asking them to assist.”
However, Ms D’Alton said she has been informed that they are short-staffed and find it difficult to help.
This confirmed concerns expressed by other councillors that landowners may have little to fear legally from not tackling Japanese knotweed infestation.
It was at this point in the debate that the Fine Gael leader on the council, Cllr Kevin Murphy, pointed out that the local authority will have to seek a change in the legislation to allow it to go on to private land to tackle the invasive plant: “At the moment we can’t enter private land. I find it quite disturbing that Japanese knotweed is growing in places and so many people are ignoring it.”
He proposed that the council should now lobby to get the legislation changed. The council could then take action and bill the landowner for eradication work it carries out.