Plant biosecurity climbs agenda in disease and pest control

Farmers, landowners and environmental groups, along with gardeners, nursery growers and other plantsmen are being asked to contribute to a major review of the UK’s plant biosecurity strategy in the face of a growing global threat of the spread of pests and diseases.

Nicola Spence
Nicola Spence

Launching a ten-week consultation on beefing up the country’s ability to keep out pests and diseases at the Chelsea flower show yesterday, the joint Defra, Scottish and Welsh Government announcement highlighted the growing threats posed by new diseases which in the modern world can swiftly spread from country to country.

“Healthy plants are essential for both the environment and the economy,” said UK’s Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence.

“In the UK, 80% of the food we eat comes from plants, they produce 98% of the oxygen we breathe and the value that our plants and trees provide to society each year is estimated at £10.5 billion. “

She said that while Great Britain already had some of the most robust biosecurity measures in the world, the approach was kept under constant review to ensure these standards were maintained and plants protected against emerging challenges.

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Rising temperatures increased the risk that non-native pests and diseases and Spence said that this included exotic varieties which were previously unable to survive in the UK.

Adding that both climate change and growing globalisation in travel and trade was intensifying this background risk, she said threats to plant health were increasing across all sectors, including agriculture, horticulture, and forestry, with ash dieback being one of the best-known recent examples.

And Spence stressed that disease outbreaks were often hugely costly - to businesses, government and the wider economy:

“Plant diseases like Xylella – a disease that affects over 560 different plant species and devastated olive trees in Europe - have the potential to cost the UK taxpayer millions of pounds a year if they arrived on our shores.”

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Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Land Reform Màiri McAllan added:

“Plants underpin our environment, rural industries, wellbeing and biodiversity.

“With an ever increasing number of plant health threats, we need to work collaboratively to effectively shape our policies and safeguard against biosecurity risks in the years ahead. I would therefore encourage all stakeholders to contribute to that process by responding to this consultation.”

The review will focus on:

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*the effectiveness of our current plant and tree health regulations;

*ways industry and the Government can work together to support a biosecure plant supply chain and ensures the safe sourcing of planting stock;

*how we enhance the nation’s technical capability, using innovative science and technology to keep pace with emerging threats and ensure preparedness for the future; and

*tougher action to protect against biosecurity risks associated with trees susceptible to high-risk pests and diseases.

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The new strategy will align with forthcoming GB Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy, to ensure a joined-up approach to the restoration and improvement of the environment.

The consultation closes on 30 November 2021 and can be found on the Defra website.

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