The broad objective of this study was to assess the public perception towards the Japanese knotweed in the United Kingdom (UK). The specific objectives, however, were to identify the influence of background factors such as age, gender, education levels and socio-economic status, on the public perception. The survey was carried out in Cardiff targeting an adult population of over 18 years of age. A total of 20 respondents were selected using the random sampling method. Efforts were made to ensure that the sample selected represented the larger UK population. Data was collected using self-administered questionnaires. The questionnaire was designed to cover the respondent’s background and perception towards the Japanese knotweed. Overall, a high number of the respondents had a negative perception of the Japanese knotweed because of the detrimental effects it has on the environment, economy and human health. The findings of the study indicate that there is need of a well-designed program to create awareness and education to the public about the various issues relating to the Japanese knotweed. The various stakeholders including the government and NGO’s need to communicate proactively with the public especially the elderly, low-income earners and women, with the correct information relating to the Japanese knotweed.
The introduction of exotic plant species has been due to their economic, aesthetic or their environmental values. Some accidental introductions have occurred through time. However, the introduction of these new plant species has not always been successful as there is a possibility of these species becoming notoriously invasive (IUCN, 2000 pg. 3). An invasive species is defined as species that is not native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction would cause or would likely cause economic or environmental harm or more so harm human health (Genovisi & Shine, 2004). These invasive species usually have negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. Some of these negative impacts include damage to buildings and hard surfaces, difficulty in controlling them, smothering of the native plants, disruption of the water flow and threats to biodiversity.
The Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an aggressive perennial plant that is native to North East Asia. The invasive plant species was introduced to the UK as an ornamental plant in the mid-19th century and is found in most urban settings and along water courses (RIC 2012, pg 2). It was particularly popular with the landscapers because of its ability to grow quickly and form dense screens. The Japanese knotweed is considered as a noxious plant weed in the UK as it inhabits disturbed, derelict and unmanaged portions of land. It can grow anywhere and travels along waterways, and can move across boundaries. The species is particularly invasive to riparian lands and is ubiquitous in most urban areas in the UK. The Japanese knotweed is known for its destruction to buildings and hard surfaces, smothering of native plant species, destruction of biodiversity and difficulty in its control among many other negative impacts (Clout & De Poorter pg. 5). However, there is a huge information gap related to the management of the weed and this is mainly related to perceptions. Little research has been carried out to determine people’s perception towards the Japanese Knotweed. Hence, this study aims to determine people’s perception towards the Japanese knotweed.
The Japanese knotweed, a native of North-East Asia was introduced to the UK in the mid-19th century as an ornamental plant. It was widely accepted, mostly by the landscapers, due to its high growth rates and ability to produce dense screens. However, its introduction turned out to be unsuccessful over the years as it turned out to be a highly invasive plant species. Japanese knotweed cold grow in any given place and led to a number of problems such as damages to buildings and tarmac, and smothering of native plants. A tiny rhizome of the plant is enough to spread the plant. It is for this reason that the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 outlawed the spread or the intentional introduction of the weed (Great Britain, 2006). Currently, Japanese knotweed is found in most urban settings and along the water ways. It is increasingly being turning up over the country in rural hedgerows and building plots. According to Binngeli (2001) and Pasiecznik et al (2001), people’s perception towards invasive species depends mainly on whether the economic needs are met by those species. In the UK, people’s perceptions of Japanese knotweed were favorable during the early stages of its introduction as it was an ornamental plant among other benefits. People’s perceptions have changed due to the negative effects of the weed (Rotherham & Lambert, 2011). Among the other factors influencing people’s perceptions include: physical appeal of the invasive species, extent of damage to property and ecosystems, opinions of influential individuals and the media portrayal of the invasive weed (Veitch & Clout, 2001). Perrings et al. 2002 state that government policies are responsible for shaping people’s perception towards invasive species. The limitations to this study include little research done on people’s perception towards the Japanese knotweed and a small number of respondents who will not give an actual picture of people’s perception of the weed.
This type of research is qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative in the sense that an in-depth understanding of people’s perceptions towards the Japanese knotweed and the reasons behind these perceptions are needed. Besides this, the topic would also be examined through observation of numerical representations and statistical analysis.
Data collection was done using questionnaires. The questionnaire required information about the age, gender, education level and socio-economic status of the respondents. It also had questions related to knowledge of government policies related to the invasive species and the general knowledge of the potential benefits and problems of the Japanese weed. Questions were related to these sub-topics as they are majorly responsible in shaping people’s perceptions towards the weed. Statements that were perceived to influence people’s perceptions were also presented in the questionnaire.
Participants were selected using the random sampling method. This is because the method enables obtaining of a more scientific result that could be used to represent an entire population. From a list of households living within the vicinity of the Japanese knotweed, 20 respondents will be selected representing an equal number of men and women, youths and adults. This would be done using random sampling. The respondents were from one single location- Cardiff. Cardiff was selected because the socio-economic factors present there are relevant to the study and also it fitted my time and resources. The randomly sampled respondents were asked for consent and approval before the questionnaires were administered to them. The findings of the study were analyzed by looking at the statistical patterns that presented themselves from the responses given, which would be analyzed in the results and discussions below.
Results and Discussion
The performance of the survey with the 20 respondents resulted in the attainment of significant findings as described below:
It is clear from the figure above that a high number of respondents (15) who had attained tertiary education had a negative perception towards the Japanese knotweed as compared to those who had only secondary education (10) and primary education (8). 8 respondents with tertiary education had a positive perception while only 5 for secondary education and 3 for primary education had a positive perception. Almost an equal number of respondents were undecided (tertiary- 5, secondary- 4 and primary- 2). The respondents who had attained tertiary education have a higher negative perception as compared to the respondents with only a secondary or primary education. It is evidently clear that those with tertiary education are knowledgeable about the problems of the Japanese knotweed hence the higher numbers in negative perception.
A high number of the respondents were aware about the Japanese knotweed and the problems it brings about. Out of the 20 respondents, 14 of them were aware about the weed as compared to 6 of them who lacked awareness. Awareness of the Japanese knotweed greatly influences people’s perception towards it. A high number of the respondents perceive negatively the weed because of the problems it brings about. 12 out of the 20 respondents had a negative perception while 5 of them had a positive perception. Only 3 of them were undecided. These figures indicate a strong correlation between the awareness levels of the weed and perception towards it.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Three key findings regarding public perception towards the Japanese knotweed are reported in this paper. First, an individual’s gender is significantly related to perception towards the invasive weed. Men have a higher negative perception towards the invasive weeds as compared to their female counterparts. It is with these confines that I recommend public awareness and education to focus more on the females than men. Age is another significant factor in influencing people’s perceptions. Awareness should focus on the older populations as they have limited access to information. With regards to education levels, awareness programs on the Japanese knotweed should focus on those with lower education levels rather than those in tertiary institutions. The low income earners should also be a target of these awareness programs. There is need for more research on public perception towards the Japanese knotweed. The knowledge of the public perception towards the Japanese knotweed is likely to enhance the way in which the public will embrace the control and management of the weed.
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CLOUT, M. N., & DE POORTER, M. (2005). International Initiatives Against Invasive Alien Species 1. Weed Technology. 19, 523-527.
GENOVESI, P., & SHINE, C. (2004). European strategy on invasive alien species. Strasbourg, Council of Europe Press.
GREAT BRITAIN. (2006). The knotweed code of practice: managing Japanese knotweed on development sites. Bristol, Environment Agency.
IUCN/SSC INVASIVE SPECIES SPECIALIST GROUP. (2000). IUCN guidelines for the prevention of biodiversity loss caused by alien invasive species. [Auckland?], Species Survival Commission (SSC).
PASIECZNIK, NICK. (2001). Prosopis- pest or providence, weed or wonder tree? European
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ROTHERHAM, I. D., & LAMBERT, R. A. (2011). Invasive and introduced plants and animals: human perceptions, attitudes, and approaches to management. Washington, DC, Earthscan.
ROYAL INSTITUTION OF CHARTERED SURVEYORS. (2012). Japanese knotweed and residential property. London, RICS.
Tick where appropriate
Gender: Male Female
Age: Between 18-35 35 and above
Education Level: Primary Secondary Tertiary
- Are you aware of the Japanese knotweed?
- Where is this species found in the area you live in?
- How did this species come here?
- Are you aware of the benefits of Japanese knotweed? If any state.
- What are some of the problems of Japanese knotweed?
- How did you learn of the problems related to Japanese knotweed?
- Do you know of any methods used to control the weed? If any state
- Are you aware of laws related to Japanese knotweed? If any state
- Where did you learn about the problems of Japanese weed?
Media Educational Institution A person
- What are your views on Japanese knotweed? Should it be legalized or outlawed? State