Councils win legal right to access private land to weed out invasive plant and animal species

New law will allow environmental pest control services to work without permission

Paul Gallagher
Tuesday 17 February 2015 17:53 GMT
Japanese Knotweed
Japanese Knotweed (Corbis)

Homeowners failing to keep control of invasive plants in their gardens will have no choice if council officials decide to enter their property and weed out of the offenders, according to a new law.

Environmental pest control services can access private land without permission to eradicate plants or animals that pose a “significant threat” to the surrounding environment. Anyone barring them from doing so could face prosecution under powers granted in the Infrastructure Act.

The Environment Agency, Natural England or Forestry Commissioners will be able to issue “special control orders” (SCOs) to force land owners to remove invasive species, or enter the land if such a move is deemed “proportionate”. Land owners will be able to appeal to a tribunal and ask for compensation for damages.

Although SCOs are aimed primarily at newly arrived invasive species, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), they could be used to combat long-established invasive plants such as Japanese Knotweed, although community protection notices already enable this.

Officials would be reliant on neighbours to inform them of potential offenders as well as an alert system involving Natural England and other agencies on the lookout. Examples of species officials might need to issue a SCO for are Sacred Ibis, Asian Hornet and Raccoons.

A Defra spokesperson said: “These control orders are intended only be used as a last resort in the exceptionally rare cases where we are unable to gain access to a property to remove recently arrived invasive non-native species, rather than long established and widespread species.

“Invasive non-native species pose a serious threat to our environment and the economy. Their economic impact in the UK alone has been estimated to be at least £1.8 billion a year.”

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