The Home Office has listed Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed in new antisocial guidance for the first time, alongside offences such as drunkenness and intimidation. This means that property owners in residential areas who fail to act on an order to remove the plants could be found guilty of a criminal offence, leading to a maximum fine of £2,500.
The Home Office document states: "These plants threaten native biodiversity by crowding out native species and destabilising river banks. They can also cause damage to forestry, agriculture and infrastructure."
Owner of Japanese Knotweed Solutions and founder of the Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association Mike Clough said: "I can't see the Government issuing fines to people or an antisocial behaviour order even though they say they will do. I don't think they will have the manpower. I don't think the Environment Agency has even fined anyone under existing legislation in the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
"We get three-to-five calls a week from people who have either had mortgages turned down because there is knotweed on the property or they have a neighbour dispute. I would like to think that it will make a difference but I think it's more the Government being seen to be doing something about it."
However, BALI technical director and national training manager for Ground Control Neil Huck, who advised on a recent EU law that bans a list of non-native species and requires member states to take action, was more positive.
He said: "I think it's related to EU legislation, which comes into UK law on 1 January. It's very interesting that the Home Office has got involved. That could have tremendous implications for the industry, people being threatened with fines."
But he said he is concerned that the right companies get any extra work rather than those that are "not set up to deal with the problem".
BALI is exploring the possibility of setting up a specialist group for companies that work in this area.
A new qualification in invasive species control, developed with Lantra, has been sent to the Learning & Skills Agency for approval.