A new report published by Grown in Britain is warning that Christmas trees imported from mainland Europe could be providing a pathway for new pests and diseases to enter the UK.
Using data gathered and analysed by the Defra Plant Health Risk and Horizon Scanning Team, the Grown in Britain report highlights fifteen pests which it says could potentially reach the UK on imported Christmas trees.
Each year, the UK imports around £3million worth of cut Christmas trees from Europe and Scandinavia. Grown in Britain says buying Christmas trees labelled with its mark, which certifies they are UK grown, is the most effective way to reduce the risk of these pests spreading to this country.
Six of the pests, including the pine processionary moth and Siberian fir woolly aphid, are currently absent from the UK and the majority of the others either have limited distribution here or their spread is unknown.
Grown in Britain Chief Executive Dougal Driver says: “Christmas trees provide ideal conditions for pests to hitch a ride. The trees are usually netted, which means the branches don’t dry out, and pests can remain hidden in the tightly bound branches. With climate change, the risks are also rising, as pests which are native to warmer parts of Southern Europe are increasingly likely to be able to survive in Northern Europe and the UK.”
The threat is even greater from larger imported Christmas trees, which are often found on display in town centres or shopping malls. The Defra data identifies a further 12 pests which could enter on large cut Christmas trees, normally categorised as those more than 3 metres in height. This takes the total number of pests which could enter the UK on Christmas trees to 27, 14 of which are currently absent from this country.
Plant health regulations are becoming increasingly stringent to reduce the risk of disease and from December this year, it is possible that more Christmas trees will be required to have plant passports. However, there are currently no controls on the import of cut Christmas trees from the EU below 3m, the ones which are destined for homes across Britain.
The Grown in Britain report also identifies a different set of pests which could potentially be brought into the UK on imported potted Christmas trees. Pests which are present in the soil or inhabit tree roots, such as nematodes (microscopic worm-like organisms) and nematode-spread plant viruses. The risk from these pests is not only to Christmas trees grown in this country, some have the potential to affect other trees and plants as well, if they come into contact while in a garden centre, farm or woodland environment.
Professor Nicola Spence, the UK Chief Plant Health Officer comments: “I welcome Grown in Britain’s initiative to encourage people to source their Christmas trees responsibly and practise strong biosecurity.
“Protecting our country from pests and diseases is vital to safeguard our environment, economy and health. Our international surveillance work helps us spot new risks and take action to stop any diseases before they arrive.”
Grown in Britain has a Christmas tree certification scheme, which currently covers around 100,000 trees. It provides an assurance that the trees are grown in this country, meet strict freshness standards and have been subject to regular biosecurity checks. Certified British grown trees are also more environmentally friendly, due to the reduced miles the tree will have travelled to get to the sales site.
Grown in Britain and Defra’s Plant Health Risk and Horizon Scanning Team are holding a joint briefing event on Christmas trees and biosecurity in London on 14 October. For details go to www.growninbritain.org.
To read a copy of the Grown in Britain report click here