Home Environment and health Souvenir plants threat to UK biosecurity

Souvenir plants threat to UK biosecurity

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

Plants in hand baggage could introduce pests and diseases to country claims RHS

Before we start, most plants are not banned – there are some restrictions – if you need to know more, check out my post Can you bring plants into the UK from abroad?

The RHS and Defra are asking holidaymakers not to bring plants back in their hand baggage from holidays, saying it introduce new pests and diseases to the UK.

Millions of plants enter the country legally, bought by tourists, leading to fears that problem insects and bacterium like Xylella fastidiosa could find their way into our gardens.

A survey by the RHS reveals that of more than half (57 per cent) of respondents planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months, nearly one in ten (nine per cent) would consider bringing a plant back with them, equivalent to 2.5 million people.

Importing plants is already subject to some restrictions that vary depending on country of travel and plant type, leading the RHS and Defra to buy plants in the UK instead.

Fuchsia gall mite. Picture; RHS/Andrew Halstead
Fuchsia gall mite. Picture; RHS/Andrew Halstead

Fuschia gall mite problems

Fuchsia gall mite is now rife in the South East has been attributed to an enthusiast illegally importing cuttings from South America.

There are more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the plant health risk register while Xylella – a bacterium which is known to affect more than 350 species, including lavender, hebe and rosemary – has been found in Italy, France and Spain.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of survey respondents is planning to visit one of these three countries in the next 12 months.

When it comes to the existing restrictions at borders, respondents said UK customs (68 per cent) should be responsible for making people aware of restrictions, followed by the UK government and governmental departments (59 per cent), travel gateways such as airports, ports, coach and train terminals (51 per cent) and travel operators (50 per cent).

As announced in May’s Tree Health Resilience Strategy, Defra will launch the ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign this summer to raise awareness of the risks of bringing back cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and plant material from holiday destinations.

Leave plants where they are

Sue Biggs, director general of the RHS, said: “For many people, wandering the olive groves of Italy and lavender fields of France are as much a part of the holiday experience as the cities and beaches.

“We’re asking people to leave these beautiful plants where they are for future visitors to enjoy and not to bring them back home with them. This is vital if we are going to win the fight to protect our gardens against the growing threat of pests and diseases.”

Defra chief plant health officer, Nicola Spence, said: “Our inspectors now make more interceptions of harmful organisms than any other EU member state but we can’t eliminate all risks and we all have a part to play in protecting our plants and trees.

“Through our ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign we’ll be asking everyone to enjoy the exotic plants and flowers they see on their holidays – but only bring them back to the UK in their memories and pictures.’’

For more information about pests and diseases and what can be done to strengthen the UK’s biosecurity visit www.rhs.org.uk.

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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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