The UK’s biosecurity and Brexit

UK imports of live plants have increased by 71 per cent since 1999

The value of UK imports of live trees and plants was £1.06 billion in 2020. With increasing trade however, comes increasing risk of pests and diseases being imported inadvertently.

There are now more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the UK plant health risk register. Some introduced plant pest and diseases, for example ash dieback, box tree moth and horse chestnut leaf miner, have spread widely in the UK and are causing significant changes to our landscape and horticultural practices.

The current situation

Previously, plants could move around in the EU without restriction if they were grown in an EU country (including the UK), certified free from pest and diseases and for a traveller’s own use or consumption.
The UK has now left the EU and there are no longer exemptions for transporting plants for personal use. This means that, from the 1 January 2021, you must have a phytosanitary certificate for almost all plants and living parts of plants, including all seeds for planting and potatoes for human consumption, that you are bringing in in personal baggage.

This applies to plant material from both the EU and any other country outside of the EU.

A phytosanitary certificate is issued from the plant health authority of the country where the plant material originates from to guarantee that the material has been officially inspected, is free from quarantine pests and diseases, and meets the legal requirements for the material to enter GB.

To find out about how to apply for a phytosanitary certificate please refer to the RHS page on importing and exporting plants.

There are some plant products considered low risk and that can be brought into GB from the EU and third countries without a PC. These include processed and packaged products (e.g. salads, sandwiches, frozen material), composite products (e.g. nut or seed butters that contain processed fruit or vegetables), and the following fruits/leaves:

  • Pineapples
  • Kiwis
  • Coconut
  • Citrus
  • Kumquat
  • Bitter orange
  • Persimmon
  • Durian
  • Cotton (bolls)
  • Curry leaves
  • Banana and plantain
  • Mango
  • Dates
  • Passionfruit
  • Guava

What are we doing?

We are championing better plant health in gardens by working on the detection and identification of new pests and diseases and developing more effective controls for them. 

We’ve also implemented and follow six plant health principles, which guide our work across gardens, shows and retail. Immediate actions stemming from these principles include:

  • Banning nine plant groups, identified by Defra as being particularly susceptible to diseases caused by Xylella fastidiosa, from being exhibited at RHS Shows (unless UK sourced and grown). They are: Coffea spp. (coffee), Hebe spp. (hebe), Lavandula spp. (lavender), Nerium oleander (oleander), Olea europaea (olive), Polygala myrtifolia (polygala), Prunus spp. (cherry, plum etc.), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), and Spartium junceum (Spanish broom), 
  • Incorporating evaluation of plant health risk into judging criteria for gardens at RHS Shows
  • Holding imported plants and semi-mature trees for a period of time in isolation (plant quarantine) prior to planting in RHS gardens
  • Inspecting plant material for the presence of pests and diseases, in plant quarantine, in the garden and at shows
  • Wherever possible using UK grown and sourced plant material

Possible solutions

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and the additional checks on plant imports from the EU may provide an opportunity to improve detection of plant pests and diseases at the border and in doing so has the potential to reduce future pest and disease problems. 

Now the UK has left the EU, we continue to engage with policymakers, in co-ordination with the industry, to advocate for and ensure the sustainability of horticulture in the UK.

Cross-sector governance group

We continue to call for the formation of a cross-sector governance group – retail, arboriculture, horticulture and research, for example – to provide a strategic overview and independent advice to ministers. An international example of a successful scheme would be the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee in New Zealand

Improved legislation

We are examining whether the new protocols introduced with the UK’s departure from the EU ensure biosecurity regulation is consistent and risk-based across pathways.

We continue to call for the creation of compensation and/or insurance schemes for plant health responses for the industry – including production and retail – and landowners/householders. This includes private importers and the internet trade as well as the horticultural and plant trade industry. 

Incentives to improve biosecurity in trade

Import substitution is very closely linked to biosecurity risks as imported, woody-plant material represents one of the higher risk pest and disease pathways. We  continue to call for development of an industry/Government nursery investment / incentive biosecurity scheme. This would enable improved UK infrastructure, training, skills to increase in-country production and economic growth whilst reducing biosecurity risks.

Public education

We are working with Defra and the wider industry to utilise the opportunity of changing plant health regulations to increase public awareness of plant health and biosecurity risks to ensure the public understands their responsibility and drive cultural change.

We encourage Defra to ensure the UK’s plant health regulatory requirements are presented in a way that is accessible and user-friendly (for the public and industry) in order to contribute to this outcome. We are also producing resources interpreting the new regulations for groups such as our staff (curatorial and garden retail), designers and contractors for RHS Shows and home gardeners.

How we’re working to improve plant health

Harmful plant pests and diseases are becoming more established in the UK. To combat the changes this causes horticulture and the environment we have revised our approach to plant health

Our actions


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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.