The biosecurity threat to the UK and global environment from international trade in plants


  • 1

    In relation to the EU, it should be noted that, in biosecurity terms, a considerable geographical advantage was possessed by the UK and Ireland up to the 1970s by virtue of their island status i.e. in being physically isolated. This geographical advantage was comparable to that of New Zealand and Australia; and both the latter countries have reinforced their geographic isolation by imposing what many would regard as among the world's toughest plant import regimes. It can be argued that much of the comparable advantage for the UK and Ireland was diluted in the interest of wider trade when the two countries joined the EU in the 1970s.

  • 2

    24% of a European-wide sample of 77 P. ramorum isolates collected in 2004 were already resistant to the anti-Phytophthora chemical Metalaxyl Gold (S. Wagner, BBA Germany, personal communication).

  • 3

    N.B. These examples reflect the effectiveness of local science: Germany and Spain are not the member states referred to in the paragraph above.

  • 4

    A vested interest in the status quo would not necessarily be confined to individuals within the plant trade. Internationally, plant health has an array of well meaning, highly professional inspectors, administrators, research scientists, risk analysts, and officers of plant protection organisations (EPPO, NAPPO) and of governmental and intergovernmental committees. I count myself among them. In essence, plant health has become an industry in itself. As in all professions, some may seek to stay within the comfort zone, becoming institutionalized and resistant to initiating change even when system failure is apparent.

  • 5

    An exception being a Science Exchange hosted by the RHS at Reading University in November 2005 (



Native plant communities, woodlands and landscapes in the UK and across the world are suffering from pathogens introduced by human activities. Many of these pathogens arrive on or with living plants. The potential for damage in the future may be large, but current international regulations aimed at reducing the risks take insufficient account of scientific evidence and, in practice, are often highly inadequate. In this Letter I outline the problems and discuss some possible approaches to reducing the threats.