The invasive Japanese knotweed plant affecting plant life across much of the UK is to be brought under control by the release of foreign “jumping plant lice”, it has been revealed.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has labelled the non-native Japanese knotweed as one of the world’s top 100 most invasive species.
And Government estimates suggest the problem costs £150 million per year to control in the UK.
But Wildlife Minister Huw Irranca-Davies has revealed the plant lice, which is a predator to the rampantly growing plant, will be released at several sites across the country to act a a natural pest control.
Five years of research at agricultural and environmental experts CABI found that the psyllid Aphalara itadori is the best candidate for controlling the plant.
The bug was tested on more than 90 other plants, including those closely related to Japanese knotweed and important crops, to see if the insect would feed on them.
The research suggests the psyllid would only target the Japanese knotweed and a few other closely related non-native species if it were released in the UK.
If successful, the scheme - the first of its kind to control an invasive plant in Europe - will be rolled out to other sites.
Mr Irranca-Davies said: “Japanese knotweed causes over £150 million worth of damage and disruption throughout the UK every year.
“This project is not only ground-breaking, it offers real hope that we can redress the balance.
“These tiny insects, which naturally prey on Japanese knotweed, will help free local authorities and industry from the huge costs of treating and killing this devastating plant.”
Ian Nicholson, chairman of the environment and sustainability expert panel at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), said: “Japanese knotweed is a big issue for the construction industry, costing millions of pounds each year to manage.
“The ICE therefore welcomes any advances in providing solutions to this invasive species, provided of course they do not produce any other negative impacts on the environment.”