Home Environment and health Can you bring plants into the UK from abroad?

Can you bring plants into the UK from abroad?

One of the plant stalls, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
One of the plant stalls, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

Know the different rules for the EU and the rest of the world

You know the dilemma – you’re a gardener on holiday abroad and are smitten by the plants around you – but can you bring them home?

Most people think you can’t but you can. I’ve just arrived home with plants and seeds from Madeira quite legally but there are restrictions.

The recent discovery of infection of native ash trees by the fungus Chalara fraxinea have shown what a damaging effect plant pests and disease can have on communities, business and the economy.

There’s also the quandary of buying at home or abroad but in my view, there’s nothing wrong with supporting legitimate local growers in a country you choose to holiday in, especially if you can’t buy the plant at home.

It’s far better that rather than bringing back a tacky ornament probably made thousands of miles away.

Madeiran banana divisions on sale, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
Madeiran banana divisions on sale, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

Avoid last-minute airport buys

A tip – don’t buy in the airport. Prices are vastly inflated. I paid 5 euros for a large Strelitzia (bird of paradise flower) division in the market – a tiny boxed version was 13.50 euros in Funchal Airport.

You’re best to avoid plants, etc being sold at the roadside, as you really don’t know where they’ve come from.

Here, I’m concentrating mostly on European Union* (EU) countries – other rules apply for nations outside the trading bloc. Information correct at time of writing (June 2018).

Too big for hand luggage - variegated Monstera on sale, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
Too big for hand luggage – variegated Monstera on sale, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

Rules on plants and seeds from the EU

Generally, you can bring in plant material from the EU if it is:

  • Grown in an EU country
  • Free from pests and diseases
  • For your own use

Be careful to check where the plant was originally grown – rules are based on this, not where you bought it. Traders in the Funchal market in Madeira (Mercado dos Lavradores) clearly displayed that plants were grown on the island and had their documentation on show. If they don’t, don’t risk it.

However, there are important exceptions – the following are BANNED:

  • Plants and seeds of Fraxinus (ash)
  • Plants and seeds of Castanea (sweet chestnut)
  • Plants of Platanus (plane)

The downloadable leafletBringing fruit, vegetable and plant products into the UK tells you which plant material you can bring in, and how much of each item is allowed.

It’s not comprehensive and will only give you a summary of the rules for passenger baggage. As pests and diseases can occur suddenly, these rules can change at any time without notice.

For up-to-date information on what can be a changeable situation, contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency, www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/biodiversity/internationally/cites or call on 0117 372 3700, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm.

Overflowing with lush colour, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
Overflowing with lush colour, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

Bringing plants into the UK from outside the EU

Many plants have weight and quantity restrictions or are banned completely unless you have a ‘phytosanitary’ (plant health) certificate.

You can get this from the plant health authorities in the country you’re leaving, proving that your plants have been inspected, are free from pests and diseases, and are suitable to enter the UK. Frankly, I’d leave this to professional importers.

If you’re buying plants online or by post, check that the seller can provide a phytosanitary certificate.

Exotic fruits and chillies, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
Exotic fruits and chillies, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

Further information

You can’t bring into the UK endangered plants, regardless of where you are travelling from, without the correct permits.

For more information on what you can and can’t bring back, visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/bringing-fruit-vegetable-and-plant-products-into-the-uk or call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (from the UK) +44 (0)20 7238 6951 (from outside the UK). Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

*EU Countries in this context are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus (but only goods from areas effectively controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus), Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (Republic of), Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK (including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands). For these purposes, EU countries also include Andorra, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican City. However, in this case, Gibraltar and the Canary Islands do not count as being part of the EU.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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