Another 'weedy' great conference!

The Property Care Association returned to The Slate at Warwick University for the 5th International Invasive Weed Conference on the 21st November. We are pleased to say delegate numbers were up again to 170 giving us the biggest attendance to date. Attendees were treated to an excellent programme of speakers plus poster sessions in the lobby with plenty of debate and discussion throughout the day.

A new innovation this year was the launch of our Conference App for smartphones enabling delegates to access all details and ask questions during presentations leading to ‘quite lively’ Q&A sessions!

The theme for this years’ event was ‘Challenges – Solutions – Developments’ so let’s quickly review the key messages.

A knowledge journey – #IIWC2019 Begins

Dr Sarah Webster from Defra opened the conference and chaired the first session. She set the scene by acknowledging the significant contribution that PCA members make with regards to the ‘challenge’ posed by Invasive plants/weeds and their threat to our natural biodiversity.

Defra themselves have a busy programme of work preparing for Brexit and implementing the new IAS Enforcement and Permitting Order (new powers under EU law). There will be specific management measures introduced for 11 plant species (mix of aquatics and terrestrial), but not for Japanese knotweed as this is not listed under IAS Regulations. Dr Webster also confirmed that, as requested by the Commons Select Committee, they have commissioned a research project to investigate the policies/strategies adopted elsewhere in developed countries (North America, Europe) for dealing with Japanese Knotweed in the built environment (report due by the end of March 2020).

Challenges – Session 1

Off the back of Dr Webster, we moved on to our speakers and presentation in this first session.

First up was Professor Max Wade from AECOM who reviewed EMAPi 2019 and how fundamental research across Europe and the world can help us understand the scale and scope of the Invasive weed issues facing all ecosystems. Prof Wade also described how the AECOM/PCA presentation showcased our contribution to raising standards of professionalism in the sector through training and examination. A unique UK success story.

Professor Joe Caffrey from INVAS Biosecurity soon followed with an insightful Irish perspective on the challenges of dealing with Invasive ‘Non-Native Species’ and in particular, getting effective collaboration, sustained funding and systematic approaches across all the legislative bodies (central Government and Local Councils). Prof Caffery welcomed opportunities sharing knowledge and experience across the UK and Ireland.

We then welcomed Gavin Coe of The River Stewardship to the podium.  He talked about the special challenges associated with ‘landscape-scale’ management of Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam in Yorkshire (later awarded ‘Project of the year’ at the PCA Awards dinner).

Session 1 then finished off strongly with Robert Stevens of Nationwide Building Society giving us an interesting insight into the processes now being used to assess defects at the valuation stage. Robert advises the ‘challenge’ with Japanese Knotweed is to address the question as to whether the risk model used should focus on structural impacts alone or the wider liabilities associated with the plant (encroachment, loss of amenity, nuisance etc).

 

Solutions – Session 2

This session was chaired by Dr Karen Bacon, National University of Ireland, Galway and included presentations from:

Kate Pollard from CABI who managed to condensed 13 years of intensive research on the biological control of Himalayan Balsam into an entertaining 20 minutes! Fascinating to know that this single species has several geographic sources all with their own unique genetic code and that this can have an impact on their susceptibility to rust spores. Work continues and seems to offer real promise for the future.

Dr Oliver Pescott from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology was next on and brought us up-to-date with plant recognition software and applications. The results were very impressive but, thankfully the technology is not quite there to replace a PCA qualified surveyor just yet!

Next on, they often say ‘a dog is a person’s best friend’! Well, Helga Heylen from Conservation Dogs in Ireland proves the point by introducing and educating us about the incredible sense of smell that dogs have and how this can be put to so many uses, in particular detecting Japanee Knotweed rhizome fragments a fair way below soil level! The pros and cons of canine co-workers was very interesting to hear.

The final presenter in this session came was Dr Dan Jones from Swansea University who described his most recent work with Japanese Knotweed. It was interesting to hear that with the right timing, one spray application of Glyphosate a year may be the optimal management approach! Revegetation of sites cleared of Japanese Knotweed can help to stop secondary site colonisation by other invasives weeds and, potentially, suppress rhizome re-growth (more on this below). Yarrow seemed to be useful!

 

Developments – Session 3

Last, but not least, session 3 was chaired by Dr Lois Child, visiting research fellow at Loughborough University and author of many texts on invasives including (with Max Wade) the iconic ‘Knotweed Manual’.

First up was Kay Pemberton of Japanese Knotweed Ltd who asked us the question “is there growth in other invasive species?” The answer was an emphatic “yes” with public awareness about the threat to biodiversity never been higher.  Kay also suggested that Property Care Association members can work collectively to improve our understanding of invasive plant ecology and treatment strategies.

Next up…it was ME speaking about how the PCA’s training programme has been constantly evolving for the last 5 years to meet the needs and new challenges of the sector. I introduced the idea of a second tier of qualification for CSJK surveyors covering other invasive species and based on career experience and competences. However, it is still early days with lots of discussion going on behind the scenes about the ‘who’s, what’s and when’s’! Very much a ‘watch this space‘ for news!

To finish the session, Donna Dewbury from Charles Lyndon solicitors gave a legal update referring to several cases they have been directly involved with. The responsibility of property owners to manage knotweed on their land is clear but, as always, the devil is in the detail as regards the rights of neighbours and what they can or cannot insist on.  Bottom line…we need to be careful regarding the advice we give.

 

Final chance to ‘pick the brains’ of experts!

After a great day of thought-provoking presentations by industry-leading experts across a wide range of subjects we finished off with an ‘Expert Question Time’ session chaired by Dr Olaf Booy.

There were a lot of questions coming ‘thick and fast’ but some of the more interesting things to come out the from our expert panel include Karen Bacon who told us that even ecology students at university have very poor plant recognition skills. Paul Beckett (Phlorum) bemoaned the poor funding situation for applied research and speculated on what the Chinese were going to do with the Japanese Knotweed genome data when it was finally completed (make Resveratrol in vitro was the answer apparently). Dan Jones confirmed that there was a follow-up project at Taffs Well looking at rhizome dormancy and finally Dr Wayne Dawson (Durham University) who invited everyone to take an interest in the work of the ‘GB Non Native Species Secretariat’ programme‘ and to engage with academic research projects via the British Ecological Society which has a specialist invasives interest group.

After a truly thought-provoking and educational day, Trevor Renals of the Environment Agency kindly wrapped-up proceedings with ‘Final Thoughts’. He welcomed all the contributions from, not just the speakers, but from the floor as well and was particularly pleased to see so many visitors from overseas.

Big THANK YOU to ALL that attended #IIWC2019

Just before signing off, we want to say a Thank you to everyone for coming and to our brilliant speakers. We think the conference this year has been a great success and based on the many positive comments received it certainly looks like the #IIWC2019 has gone down well with our attendees too. Finally, we just want to say our Invasive Weed Conference’s would not be the success they are without the continued support and contribution from our Property Care Association members. We now have the pleasurable task of making #IIWC2020 even better!

A BIG Thank You to everyone again. To view the pictures of the day, click on the button link below.

View Pictures – Invasive Weed Conference

 

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