Subscribe to our HortNews newsletter

Brexit an opportunity to rethink biosecurity needs in the UK, says Royal Horticultural Society


The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will provide an opportunity to revise the UK’s approach to plant health and focus on a system that meets the country’s needs, says the Royal Horticultural Society in a new paper published today.

In Brexit and Biosecurity, the charity argues that an increase in the rate at which harmful plant pests and diseases have become established in the UK and the looming threat of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa on the continent – which is known to infect up to 350 plant species and may result in plant death – means there is more that policymakers and the industry must do to safeguard UK horticulture for the future.

There is also a chance, says the RHS, to consider how biosecurity is managed in countries considered to have good standards such as Australia and New Zealand which benefits from public recognition of responsibility, a strong connection with the environment and compensation for all biosecurity responses.

The RHS five point plan suggests:

  1. The formation of a cross-sector governance group to provide strategic overview and independent advice to ministers
  2. Development of protocols to ensure biosecurity regulation is consistent and risk-based across pathways – including the internet trade and personal baggage allowance – and the creation of suitable compensation and/or insurance schemes for plant health responses
  3. The introduction of a national plant health certification scheme mandatory for all UK importers of nursery stock
  4. The development of an industry/government nursery investment incentive biosecurity scheme to support in-country production and economic growth whilst reducing biosecurity risks
  5. Defra, working with industry, utilising this opportunity to increase public awareness of plant health and biosecurity risks to ensure that the general public understand their responsibility and help drive cultural change

The full paper Brexit and Biosecurity is on the RHS website.

In 2018 the RHS introduced six new plant health principles to guide its work across gardens, shows and retail. This included the banning of nine plant groups identified by Defra as being particularly susceptible to Xylella fastidiosa from being exhibited at RHS Shows unless UK sourced and grown and holding in isolation imported semi-mature trees for at least 12 months prior to planting in RHS gardens.

Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the RHS, said: “There are more than 1,000 plant pests and diseases on the UK plant health risk register, many of which threaten the future health of our gardens. The need to implement stricter biosecurity measures, to stop such pests and diseases from establishing, transcends the Brexit process but the political climate provides an opportunity for industry and policymakers to come together to affect positive change.”

For more information about plant health in the UK please visit