Holiday souvenirs put gardens at risk

Dame Helen Mirren lends support to RHS campaign urging holidaymakers not to bring plants from abroad to help halt the spread of deadly disease

In light of the growing plant health threat posed by the deadly bacterium Xylella fastidiosa – which has affected more than 11 million olive trees in Italy already – we have been calling on holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad and instead purchase them in the UK.

Dame Helen Mirren has added her voice to our campaign. She said: “I have witnessed first-hand the destruction that Xylella causes in Puglia, Italy – devastating (almost overnight) countless centuries-old olive trees in the businesses and communities that have long relied on them.

She added: "Preventing Xylella’s spread is a priority and something that UK holidaymakers can support by simply avoiding bringing plants back from abroad that may be harbouring the bacterium."

More than 500 plant species at risk

The disease prevents plants from transporting water and is known to infect more than 500 different plant species with garden favourites lavender, oleander, rosemary and flowering cherry all at risk in the UK.

If found in the UK, all host plants within 100m would be destroyed and there would be restrictions on movement of specified plants within a 5km radius for up to five years – striking a death knell for gardens and horticultural businesses.

In 2018 we surveyed visitors to Chatsworth Flower Show and discovered that more than half (57%) of respondents planning to travel abroad were considering bringing a plant back with them, equivalent to 2.5 million people.

Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the RHS, added: “While importing plants in personal baggage is already subject to some restrictions we are calling on holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad and instead purchase them in the UK. Several pests and diseases are already thought to have made their way into our gardens through private importations, such as fuchsia gall mite, and we simply cannot afford for Xylella to follow.”

How you can help

Our initiative complements Defra’s ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign, which continues this summer and raises awareness of the risks of bringing back plants, cut flowers, fruit and vegetables from holiday destinations. If you have enjoyed seeing a certain plant or tree on your travels and want to enjoy it in your own garden, you should always buy directly from a UK garden centre or supplier. That way you can be sure that it has been sourced responsibly and gone through the necessary checks for pests and diseases.

The RHS is also working as part of a UK Research and Innovation-funded consortium called BRIGIT, supported by Defra and the Scottish government, to enhance UK surveillance and response to Xylella fastidiosa. Volunteers are being asked to report sightings of spittlebugs in gardens and green spaces; spittlebugs are not plant pests, and should therefore be left alone, but do carry Xylella on the continent where the disease has been found.

Established pests already bought back by gardeners

Fuchsia gall mite, which causes plant disfigurement and is now rife in the South East, has been attributed to a keen gardener bringing fuchsia into the country in their personal baggage.

There are currently more than 1,000 new pests and diseases on the risk register while Xylella  has been found in Italy, France and Spain. Nearly a third (31%) of survey respondents were planning to visit one of these three countries in the following 12 months.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.