As media coverage and public concern about the latest threat to Britain’s plants – the pathogen Xylella fastidiosa – increase, the managing director of the UK’s largest container tree nursery has warned a strict quarantine system is the only answer to combat the serious peril. “Anyone buying trees should ask where they have come from and if they have an audit trail”, says Mike Glover of Barcham Trees in Cambridgeshire. “If they are not satisfied with the answers, they should simply walk away and not buy from that supplier”.
Glover continues “Xylella is not in the UK yet, but if plant material keeps coming across from the continent without any thought to bio-security it is only a matter of time before this menace becomes a reality. Wholesale nurseries are an obvious sector to focus on plant quarantine, but more plants are imported by garden centres, supermarkets, landscape architects and designers, as well as the general public buying online. Buying must become more considered to protect our industry and the wider landscape.
“There is a solution, and it has already been put into practice by Barcham. In 2014 we published a six-page document outlining our commitment to bio-security, the first UK tree nursery to do so. Central to our commitment is the pledge we will continue not to import trees and sell them to customers for immediate planting into the UK landscape. All imported trees are held on the nursery for a full growing season, during which time they are subject to regular rigorous inspection for pest and disease, including those conducted by DEFRA.
“Bio-security is a real and ever-present issue we must face. The authorities are not taking a lead on this; it requires companies and individuals to take responsibility for their actions to
keep our industry intact. Our policy was taken voluntarily and at significant financial cost to the nursery, but we know it is the right thing to do”.
While the majority of trees at Barcham are home-grown, every consignment of imported trees is given a unique batch number on arrival, clearly visible on every tree the nursery sells, thereby providing a complete audit trail from supplying nursery to planting in the UK landscape. Once they have been through a full growing season on the nursery and been passed clear of pest and disease by DEFRA, the problem associated with imported stock is nullified.
The Xylella bacterium, which lives in the plant xylem tissue, has been present in Europe since October 2013, when it was reported in olive groves in Apulia, Italy. In July 2015 it was reported on Corsica and then in mainland France. The European Food Safety Authority currently lists more than 350 plant species, from 204 genera and 75 botanical families, affected by Xylella fastidiosa. The European Commission’s website calls it “one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide, causing a variety of diseases with huge economic impact”.