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I have a large garden, which is getting rather overgrown because my job is demanding. My neighbour, a keen gardener, has threatened to report me to the council if I don’t get rid of some Japanese knotweed, which I happen to think is quite attractive. Why are they so upset?
Japanese knotweed is an invasive species brought to Europe from Japan in the mid 19th century by a German-born botanist who found it growing on the side of volcanoes. While you might think it looks attractive, it is highly destructive. In its native volcanic landscape, it is kept under control by the climate and regular ash deposits. But in Britain, left to its own devices, knotweed can grow up to 20cm a day and can even grow through concrete.
So it grows fast. That doesn’t sound worthy of council intervention?
Japanese knotweed can swamp and kill other plants. Left unchecked, it can devalue homes by growing through floors and destroying foundations. The plant is so destructive that it can make selling your home impossible, and can cost upwards of £20,000 to treat.
Well, what are the council going to do about it?
As the plant is so destructive (in 2010 it was estimated to have cost the UK economy £166m a year in treatments and home devaluations) the government has taken action to tackle the problem in residential areas. People who fail to control their knotweed can be issued with a notice under antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) and penalties can range from an on-the-spot fine of £100, to prosecution and a fine of up to £2,500.
They’re going to give me an Asbo?!
I guess I should just cut it?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Knotweed spreads very easily, and its roots grow very deep, making effective removal tricky. On top of this, knotweed is classed as a “controlled waste” and if it is not disposed of correctly, you could face prosecution. You should seek professional advice to tackle the problem. In the meantime, you could always try some knotweed recipes, I hear it makes a nice crumble.
Alexandra Cooke is an associate at international law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Losing your right of way
We are selling our country estate and one of our neighbours recently mentioned that he has a right of way over our land allowing him access to a field to graze his animals. Nobody has ever exercised a right of access. So what does the neighbour mean?
Rights of this nature (known as easements) will usually be documented in your title deeds, so you should ask your solicitor to check those first.
Right, but no one has used that right of way for many years and he doesn’t appear to own any grazing animals. Does this change anything?
The law assumes that people do not generally intend to abandon their property rights. In the 1992 Court of Appeal case, Benn v Hardinge it was decided that even where a right had not been used for 175 years, no presumption of abandonment of easement arose in the circumstances.
Surely we can terminate the right? Or buy it back?
You cannot unilaterally rescind the right, but it may be possible to reach an agreement with your neighbour. He is likely to expect payment for the surrender of the easement, though, and for you to pay his legal fees. Any such agreement should be documented and registered at the Land Registry if the estate is registered, or retained with the title deeds if it is unregistered.
What if there is nothing in the deeds about this? Will it still affect my sale?
If the neighbour’s right is not exercised in practice and is not documented then the buyer of your estate may simply accept the position. After all, it’s not caused you any problems over the years. You should make full disclosure of the conversation with your neighbour, though.
Laura Conduit is a senior associate at Farrer & Co LLP
The legal issues discussed in this column refer to England and Wales and are for illustrative purposes only and should not be considered legal advice
Illustration by James Fryer
Japanese knotweed and apple crumble
By Fergus Drennan (to serve six)
Remove leaves and roughly chop the knotweed. Peel, core and slice the apples. Finely chop the ginger. Simmer in the water together with the sugar. Rub together the flour and butter to form a crumb-like consistency. Mix in the rolled oats and sugar. Place fruit and stewing juices in a bowl, evenly cover with crumble mixture and bake in an oven at 180C for 30 minutes. Serve hot with crème fraîche.
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