Hillier Nurseries divisional director Hossein Arshadi says existing initiatives to halt the spread of plant pests and diseases will not work in practice and could lead to a “very costly breakdown in bio security”.
He is urging the industry and the government to follow Hilliers’ example and accept “zero tolerance” of plant health risks, especially potentially devastating diseases like Zylella speciosa.
He believes the steps taken by Defra are not adequate to halt the spread of such problems, with a 600% increase in new pests arriving in the UK over the past 20 years. He says Defra should ban the import of host plants rather than trying to identify or control them after they have arrived, “a risky and very expensive strategy”.
He says initiatives like the proposed quarantining of imported trees for a period of one year and the HTA’s Plant Health Assurance Scheme (PHAS) lack the blueprint needed to show how they would work.
“In order for PHAS to work, all businesses without exception who handle and import plants must join the scheme. This includes nurseries, garden retailers, landscape contractors, traders, main contractors, online traders, local authorities, the Forestry Commission and any others who come into contact with plants,” Arshadi continues. “As we now know, it only took one oak tree with Oak Processionary Moth to contaminate thousands of trees. This continues to cost millions of pounds to keep under control.”
I don’t believe these initiatives are better than nothing. They create a false sense of security.
Hillier’s now refuse to import plants that are host to major pests and diseases from infected areas identified by Defra.
If Xylella spreads in the UK, Arshadi maintains, it will need tens of millions of pounds to manage and contain the spread of this disease. “In my opinion, prevention is better than cure. It is just common sense!”
He says the issues need are the a collective responsibility of the industry, the government and the media, who need to educate and inform the public and plant buyers of the seriousness of the risks, to reduce the demand for imported, risky host plants. This may also lead to more UK nurseries growing such plants themselves – so-called import substitution.
Q: What policy support from the government would you like to see to help bolster biosecurity?
Ha also believes the government should also set aside a compensation package to support nurseries who may suffer financially through no fault of their own, with hefty fines for businesses who don’t follow the rules.
Read the full article in the forthcoming April 2019 issue of Garden Trade News.