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, however you can, but there are restrictions and a moral argument about bringing plant diseases into the country (see my post on The RHS’s and Dame Helen Mirren’s campaign here), especially with Xylella on the rampage in Europe – for more about that, click here.
The 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.
However, if you’re determined to buy a plant from abroad, here’s what you need to know (information correct as of March 8, 2020):
Avoid last-minute airport buys
- A tip – don’t buy in the airport. Prices are vastly inflated.
- Never buy plants, etc, being sold at the roadside, as you don’t know where they’ve come from.
- Never gather seeds or plants from the wild, as you have no idea if they are carrying pests or diseases.
Here, I’m concentrating mostly on European Union* (EU) countries – other rules apply for nations outside the trading bloc.
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)
Defra’s downloadable leaflet ‘Bringing fruit, vegetable and plant products into the UK’ tells you which plant materials 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.
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.
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 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.