Have you ever wondered how an innocent plant could stop a steak from reaching a happy customer?
Well such a thing is happening today all over the country. Beef farm from all over the UK are currently under threat from a new siege threatening to halt their processes and significantly reduce the value of their land. But what is Japanese knotweed and how is one plant having such an impact on our agriculture industry? To answer these questions we have to travel all the way back to the Victorian era, when adventurous horticulturists were setting forth across the globe to discover all manner of plant life and put them to work in any way possible.
If we want to blame one man for bringing Japanese knotweed to UK shores, then the blame rests on a German horticulturist Philipp von Siebold. Siebold owned a nursery in Holland which sent an unsolicited box of plants to Botanical Gardens Kew in 1850, four years later the plant surfaced at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, albeit under the guise of another name (Polygonum sieboldii). Botanists and amateur gardeners alike marvelled at this plant’s fast growing nature and soon nurseries all over England were selling this exotic new plant. Gardeners, being a friendly bunch, happily shared cuttings and those who began struggling with the plant’s unwieldy root system simply dug it out and discarded it. Thus Japanese knotweed was dispersed throughout the UK, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the government clocked onto how damaging the it could be to the ecosystem.
Left to it’s own devices, Japanese knotweed will happily multiply, creating huge swathes of dense foliage during the summer which stretch over 6 foot tall. The broad shield-shaped leaves that are typical for the plant are more than capable at their job, sucking up valuable sunshine that would otherwise make its way down to the ground. River banks, roadsides and gardens which harbour the plant are soon overgrown with the stuff simply because the organism is so ruthlessly greedy. Compound this greed with an alarming rate of growth (10 cm a day) and its persistent ‘rhizome’ root system (which has a nasty knack of sinking its teeth up to 4 metres into the ground) and you have a particularly aggressive plant that is best dealt with as soon as it is discovered.
The government has taken great lengths to outlaw Japanese knotweed, but regardless of the legal implications of Japanese knotweed cultivation, the plant continues to thrive and hamper the good work of farmers up and down the country.
Despite it being illegal to transport any soil containing a fragment of knotweed, gardeners regularly attempt to do so, often choosing to fly-tip their unwanted plant matter on farmland where it finds new roots and creates an expensive problem for honest working men who already have too much on their plate. Which brings us to the issues that are facing Cornish beef farmers today.
Farmers from all over the county are now reporting unprecedented amount of knotweed infestations which are costing them money and stopping them from producing the beef that we need to put on our plates.