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Thursday, 02 December 2021 09:53

What are the biggest problems facing INNSA members?

In the coming week, we will be sending out an INNSA Member Survey and we would love to get as many responses as possible, to help us understand how the association can best serve the interests of its members.

But, as Chairman, I feel particularly strongly that we need to focus on the industry issues which directly affect our members on a day-to-day basis and on their bottom line.

For example, do many of you as INNSA members feel that there is not enough recognition for invasive species control as a stand-alone service? While INNSA has had success in being recognised by mortgage lenders, procurement schemes, organisations like RICS and even the UK government, there is still a long way to go until consumers have a clear recognition of where they should go if they have an invasive species problem.

Do you face competition or loss of works to non-specialist groundwork or landscape maintenance contractors? We are aware of a few large projects where invasive weed works have been contracted out to haulage companies after invasive species specialists provided detailed reports and specifications (in some cases including Japanese knotweed management plans, risk assessments and method statements).

INNSA and other bodies, including the Amenity Standard work to attain preferred status for our members for relevant tenders, but as an association, we still get significant feedback that the bottom line for clients is… well, their bottom line. As contractors and as an association, we know that quality works are liable to be less costly in the long run than a job done badly – yet there are many stories of major contractors cutting corners and using inexperienced or under-qualified contractors to complete what should be specialist works.

This would be less of a problem if the contractors worked to the INNSA Standards (and on a broad level, INNSA would welcome this as representing an improvement from the practices which were widespread when the association was founded) but there are still too many stories of INNSA Contractor members being called in to fix messes made by bad works, for us to believe that this is no longer a significant problem.

Do you as INNSA members struggle to distance yourself from ‘one man band’ or ‘man and van’ operators? Such operators may be able to offer highly streamlined services by working locally, reducing overheads such as premises, admin staff, websites, marketing and demonstrating their competencies through approval schemes, compliance with SSIP, Amenity Standard and other industry accreditations. One hopes that safety and results don’t also suffer through this lack of investment but again, anecdotal evidence suggests that this is, sadly, not always the case.

How do you communicate the need for financial stability; accessible office staff; meaningful, site-specific reports and accurate site drawings? How do you convince clients of the value of health and safety best practice, environmental responsibility and quality control?

Do you struggle to find competitive rates on specific products? We would be interested to know about areas in the market which you find particularly challenging in this current climate.

INNSA has had numerous reports of delays and price increases across the board, including in the herbicide supply chain, but particularly with construction materials, timber and fencing used in domestic and housebuilding projects, and the availability of plant, welfare and machinery (particularly in areas where HS2 projects are taking place). We hear reports that availability at landfill facilities is increasingly at a premium – although this is a longer-term trend. We have been aware for a few years of the crunch in insurance products, particularly professional indemnity, since the Grenfell disaster.

Do you feel that you can continue to demonstrate that you are the best in the industry simply by meeting INNSA’s membership requirements, or do you find yourselves being asked to have more and more accreditations and complete more and more in-depth questionnaires about how you implement your corporate social responsibility policy, how you provide opportunities for local projects (while running an agile, go-anywhere nationwide business with three offices!), where you source your ethical tea and coffee, how much time you spend spoon-feeding learning to a coddled intern and how you invest in supporting the local school sports day (in order to meet your core corporate values of digging plants out of the ground)?

Do you find yourselves doing this all the while being asked for cheaper and cheaper prices?

So, tell us: What are your issues? INNSA really wants to know, and to focus our attention on areas that we can make improvements for our members.

Let’s get some dialogue going and see if we can help each other make INNSA the best portal for discussions relevant to or industry.

 

Mike Clough
Chairman

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Wednesday, 17 November 2021 15:02

Invasive Aliens – What’s it all about?

So, contractors, how do you explain “Invasive Alien Species” to your clients?

It can all sound a bit like the X-Files when talking of ‘aliens’ taking over the land… Do you go down the route of explaining about the ease with which the plants are spread? Or go down the “Need-for-biodiversity” route? Or do you just tell them “It’s the law…”?

Most people understand about the problems with Japanese knotweed – but they tend not to understand why the plant is on their land, where it has come from and how it got there.

The easiest route to gaining an instruction from a client is sometimes to ‘scaremonger’ – by talking about Japanese knotweed growing through concrete, causing damage to hard surfaces and re-growing from the tiniest of fragments.…

… Showing blisters and burns caused by Giant hogweed tends to raise a purchase order…

… Telling horse owners about the number of animal deaths caused by liver failure brought on by consumption of ragwort, will create a worry for equestrians…

But, is the drama and fear that these plants create really the reason that they need to be managed and controlled? Far too often, I talk to clients who do understand that invasive species need to be dealt with – but who, when pushed, could not explain the reasoning behind the treatment plans they are implementing.

Other people believe that trying to stop the advance of ‘alien’ infestations is like trying to stop the tide coming in. Climate change and the global movement of goods gives massive opportunity for the spread of new species into previously unattainable locations… why should we even bother to try and manage these changes and the spread and establishment of these new invaders?

And what about those types of invading species that have wonderful flowers, provide pollen for insects and brighten up otherwise-dull riverside locations without causing any perceived ‘harm’?

Is a lack of a clear understanding from our clients down to us as contractors? And what can we say to defend our stance as contractors working to eradicate these infestations, when confronted by such simplistic and appealing arguments?

As professionals, I believe we should be taking the time to explain the reasons behind the recommendation for removal strategies and to explain the control methods used.

For example: yes, Himalayan balsam is attractive and provides a great source of pollen for bees – but – the bees are drawn to the balsam pollen because of its potency and become so addicted to the stuff that they no longer pollinate our native species. So, we have a plant that spreads rapidly and which has an explosive method of reproduction being favoured in both the pollination and reproduction battle. This doesn’t bode well for native plants and the native species that predate upon them.

Another example: while some people claim that half of the cases of livestock poisoning in Great Britain result from the ingestion of ragwort, there is firstly no way to distinguish such cases from poisoning due to aflatoxins (caused by mould growing on feed), and long-term data on cattle poisoning shows that bracken and oak were responsible for more than double the amount of cases reported for ragwort / aflatoxin poisoning. Improved stock management, a greater understanding of plant species in general (and above all, fairer gate prices to enable farmers to actually implement this) might make significantly more impact than simply spraying away any ragwort that we come across – ragwort, of course, being a native species and supporting over 40 desirable insect species, pollinators and cinnabar moth caterpillars.

These and many more examples show why I believe that each perceived problem species should be looked at with an individual perspective.

Maybe global demonisation of certain plants shows a lack of understanding of what is taking place on a larger scale. What if, on a contaminated brownfield site, we find nothing that will grow due to the poor quality of the soils, but then Japanese knotweed takes hold? Should we immediately run out and chemically treat and eradicate the plant, or should we be celebrating that something is growing where previously there was bare ground?

Perhaps this question would be answered by looking at the long term aims for the site? If it is to remain undeveloped, then having the area ‘green up’ would seem beneficial from a point of view of biodiversity, potential to improve the natural land value of the site and even carbon capture. However, if the site is to be developed as a housing estate or industrial land then maybe control and eradication of the Knotweed would be advisable.

I would like to think that INNSA’s members would be able to get into intelligent conversation about the pros and cons of alien species and could discuss options with clients rather than having a “Kill everything” policy.

Our credibility as land managers is at stake here and we must be seen to be protectors of the environment. Mass murderers and those that have carried out ethnic cleansing never do well in the history books.

Years ago, I remember a tree surgeon that recommended all sycamores be ‘heavily pruned’. By this he meant felled. Some people (including the tree surgeon in question) considered sycamore an alien species that should not grace our shores. However, if one now takes on board the potential loss of ash trees in the UK due to ash die back, the damage to oak trees by the processionary moth and the other diseases that blight our native trees, then had all the sycamores been clear-felled thirty odd years ago as he desired, we would be looking at having very few trees left in the UK.

Mike Clough
Chairman

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Wednesday, 03 November 2021 15:38

What’s it all about?

Invasive weed control is a relatively new market. While companies have offered and specialised in commercial grounds maintenance and grass-cutting operations for hundreds of years, the specific market of invasive species management has only become a commercially-viable offshoot in the last twenty-five years.

The methodologies for invasive weed control are, in some cases, different from traditional grounds maintenance, which has given opportunity for some unscrupulous marketing techniques. When inexperienced clients are advised that a five-to-ten year eradication strategy is required, it can be very tempting if a company comes to them and says – ‘We can kill it with one spray’ – and the lie will not be exposed for at least twelve months, by which time the contractor may well have shuttered or folded.

Unfortunately, one of the bigger challenges in the invasive weed control industry is being recognised for your skills and expertise in a relatively unregulated market where it seems easy to make claims that are never substantiated.

How many times have you been on a new company’s website and read, ‘The number one Japanese knotweed contractor’ – ‘The first Knotweed contractor’ – ‘100 years’ experience’ – ‘Lloyds-backed guarantees?

Stories abound of experienced companies losing out to one-man-band operations who promise work in timescales that they simply cannot deliver. Cheap prices are submitted by inexperienced companies, when the reality is that the lack of job experience has led to a severe underestimate of the time and resources taken to eradicate invasive plant infestations – yet these tender values lead to widespread expectation of such unfeasibly low prices.

So, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Securing accreditations and being a member of a trade body would seem to be a good way to demonstrate that you are a credible company; however, the membership criteria often seem to consist solely of being able to pay a fee, with less focus on demonstrating skills, experience, knowledge and competence.

The Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA) aims to recognise those companies that are of a higher quality and have greater experience than others in the field.

INNSA aims to attract larger commercial operators who carry out projects outside the domestic market; those who understand and demonstrate a proven track record with the particular methodologies that are specific to the invasive species remediation sector.

INNSA does not aim for a large membership. You will not see headlines stating that “new member numbers have exceeded all expectations”. You will not see an award for the 1,000th newly-approved member – there will simply never be that number of companies that meet the INNSA membership criteria.

While this may seem unfair to newer companies, INNSA simply aims to differentiate between newly-established businesses which do not have the business processes, the infrastructure and the experience of companies that have been trading for ten or even twenty years. Often ten- and twenty-year programmes of work are offered by companies that have only traded for only six months. To INNSA, this seems a somewhat risky proposition.

Many invasive species eradication strategies require periods running into several years to complete. For this reason, knowing that your chosen contractor has the resources, the management capacity and the experience to finish these works it is vital for a client who wants reliable service and value for money.

 

Mike Clough
INNSA Chairman

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Thursday, 21 October 2021 15:22

INNSA WELCOMES NEW CHAIRMAN

It is a great honour to be elected to the Chairmanship of the Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA).

I would like to start by giving an overview of how we have arrived at the current position.

The early days of our industry in the United Kingdom involved a small handful of companies that had, in the course of their own works, recognised the need for dedicated management of invasive plant species. Most of the initial focus related to Japanese knotweed, because of the attention being given to a plant which was causing physical damage to buildings and delaying, damaging or devaluing development.

Whilst it would be great to be able to suggest that it was the environmental damage caused by Japanese knotweed that caused concern – the truth is that it was principally the cost implications of ignoring this plant that led to knotweed becoming the focus of developers, then lenders and then being heralded as Britain’s most problematic plant.

Initially there were no specific processes that were accepted as the approved method of eradication and a variety of innovative techniques were deployed in what was, at times, very much a ‘scatter gun’ approach in order to find reliable strategies. Some companies sprayed one chemical, some sprayed another, some recommended multiple visits and others suggested shorter timescales and higher dosages of herbicide. All had varied success.

The introduction of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981 defined in law which species of invasive plants were deemed to be problematic and the Act made it illegal to plant or allow these species to spread. This was then followed by the Japanese Knotweed Code of Practice, written by Mr Trevor Renals and released by the Environment Agency. Heavy fines could be imposed on people or businesses that ignored the regulations and the industry had a clear set of rules which should be followed.

Agrochemical companies brought out new products and contractors became more creative with acronyms and application strategies.

Insurance became a hot potato, with companies offering “ten-year guarantees”, then “twenty-year guarantees”, then “lifetime guarantees”. These offers were not backed by insurance and were simply in-house products presented on a piece of letterhead with a fancy edge drawn on to give the impression of a legally binding document. Most, if not all, of these products were worthless.

It was at this point that many reputable contractors began to feel uncomfortable with the quality of service and advice being given by newcomers to the market. Television and newspaper articles had demonised Japanese knotweed and a plethora of new companies jumped onto the bandwagon of invasive plant control.

Companies were offering “secret” mixes of chemicals that “only they” had access to – despite the limited range of products available and the legal requirement that only approved pesticides could be used. Images of back pack sprayers with volatile chemical combinations were rife, with the potential environmental damage being inestimable.

Clients were increasingly unable to understand the various strategies and insurances that were being offered and the overall impact was a loss of faith in what was being said.

It was at this point that a group of concerned individuals – competitors in the market place, but united by concern for the future of their industry – decided to join forces to try to bring some sanity to the industry. INNSA was born.

As well as new companies flooding into the market, many existing companies moved into the industry who held qualifications in pesticides application through their work with damp proofing and timber preservation. These companies had experience of chemicals and had experience of the insurance products required by mortgage companies in relation to their areas of expertise.

INNSA did spend some significant time, effort and money securing insurance products for its members, both for domestic and commercial projects, but take-up from members was relatively low, reflecting the lack of direct interest in products which were principally brought into the market to satisfy lenders looking to protect lending on domestic products.

The INNSA membership’s focus on larger commercial sites meant that these products were generally being used for housebuilders and the relatively small proportion of their turnover that came from domestic clients.

It is becoming increasingly clear over the first decade of INNSA’s existence that the membership is focussed on the bigger jobs and bigger clients in the industry – and therefore that INNSA itself must focus on retaining and attracting those members who have the capability to deliver at this more specialised end of the industry.

I aim for my chairmanship not to be characterised by the pursuit of large numbers of new members, catering for lenders and domestic clients or the investment of more of INNSA’s resources into obtaining additional insurance products; I want to focus on the quality and capability of INNSA’s membership, who I view as the best in the industry.

Mike Clough
INNSA Chairman

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Friday, 18 October 2019 12:32

Chairman’s Update – October 2019

It’s been a while since we have provided an update to members, but an awful lot of activity has been going on behind the scenes to enhance and strengthen INNSA as an organisation. I was appointed Chairman of INNSA on 19th June 2019 by the board for a 12 month period.

I took over from previous INNSA Chairman, Conor Leyden, who did a fantastic job over the last twelve months or so in consolidating INNSA’s governance and finances, overseeing the logistical challenge of moving away from our previous provider of secretariat services and our old website, and provided a steady hand through all the changes which came along with this.

Conor also effectively managed the transition from the previous PCCB-led auditing process to the current in-house system – which remains robust but is in practice, much less intrusive for members, cuts red tape and is more transparent for clients who use INNSA members. The standards outlined in what was previously the Invasives Code remain in place, but this has now been renamed the INNSA Code of Conduct.

During the last twelve months we’re very pleased to welcome on board new members in all categories, and we are pleased with each addition to our membership, which includes both newer and highly experienced operators who share INNSA’s vision of the best quality service in the invasive species industry.

All of this has had the effect of managing INNSA’s expansion while transforming the organisation into a much more streamlined, stable and agile organisation. This provides a strong base on which to build and I am pleased to have the chance to take INNSA forward over the coming months.

My vision is to strengthen the INNSA brand and ensure value for members along with reassurance and confidence for customers across all sectors.

My focus is going to be more on reaching out to our existing membership, addressing their concerns, supporting them where we can and providing a forum for sharing experience and expertise in times where we may see significant changes in the industry.

I particularly want to target raising the INNSA profile across all sectors and to make sure that INNSA members are recognised for their professionalism and expertise with in the sector.

I welcome feedback from members on how you would like your organisation to progress and how best to represent you moving forward. Feel free to contact me via e-mail, phone or in person.

Lastly, we will be holding an INNSA meeting for all members on the afternoon of Thursday 5th December 2019 in Manchester for members to have an opportunity to discuss your organisation and how we move forward into 2021. We will have representatives from the Environment Agency attending seeking feedback from members on the government consultation. After the meeting we intend have informal drinks and a chance to network. Additional details will follow over the next few weeks but please keep the date free.

David Layland
INNSA Chairman

Case Studies

River Douglas, Wigan

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Narvick Way, North Tyneside

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Lanark Way, Belfast

Lanark Way, Belfast Site survey and treatment plan for...
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Latest News

What are the biggest problems facing INNSA members?

In the coming week, we will be sending out an...
Read More

Invasive Aliens – What’s it all about?

So, contractors, how do you explain “Invasive Alien Species” to...
Read More

What’s it all about?

Invasive weed control is a relatively new market. While companies...
Read More