Holidaymakers bring millions of plants back to the UK with them in their luggage, boosting the chances of new pests and diseases entering the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society has warned.
A survey has revealed that nearly one in ten people – about 2.5 million holidaymakers – who are planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months would consider bringing a plant back with them.
One major pest, fuchsia gall mite, is already thought to have invaded the UK after a fuchsia enthusiast illegally imported cuttings of the plant from South America. The mite disfigures the leaves and flowers of many kinds of fuchsia and is now widespread in the south-east of England and spreading fast.
The RHS is most concerned about a tourist inadvertently importing the bacterial disease Xylella into the country for the first time. The virulent disease affects more than 350 species of plant including garden favourites such as lavender, hebe and rosemary, and is causing serious problems in Italy, France and Spain – countries almost a third of those who completed the survey were planning to visit.
The government has launched a campaign, ‘Don’t Risk It’, to raise awareness of the risks of bringing back cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and plant material from holiday destinations. It’s asking holidaymakers not to bring back plants from abroad and buy them in the UK once they get home instead.
“For many people, wandering the olive groves of Italy and lavender fields of France are as much a part of the holiday experience as the cities and beaches,” said RHS Director General Sue Biggs. “But we’re asking people to leave these beautiful plants where they are for future visitors to enjoy. This is vital if we are going to win the fight to protect our gardens against the growing threat of pests and diseases.”