Holidaymakers leave UK vulnerable to plant pests and diseases

Thursday 7 June 2018

- Survey finds millions of plants could enter the UK in holidaymaker baggage, increasing the risk of new pests and diseases
- The Royal Horticultural Society, with Defra, is asking holidaymakers not to bring back plants from abroad in light of growing threat
- Call comes as RHS Chatsworth Flower Show (6th-10th June) highlights importance of plant health


Millions of plants could enter the UK in the personal baggage of holidaymaking Britons this year, leading to fears that new pests and diseases - including the ‘game changing’ bacterium Xylella fastidiosa - could find their way into our gardens.

A survey by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), to coincide with the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, reveals that of more than half (57%) of respondents planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months, nearly one in ten (9%) would consider bringing a plant back with them, equivalent to 2.5 million people1.

While importing plants in personal baggage is already subject to some restrictions that vary depending on country of travel and plant type, the RHS, along with Defra, is calling on holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad and instead purchase them in the UK in light of the growing plant health threat.

Fuchsia gall mite, which causes plant disfigurement and is now rife in the South East, has been attributed to a fuchsia enthusiast illegally importing cuttings of the plant from South America. There are currently more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the plant health risk register while Xylella – a bacterium which is known to affect more than 350 species of plant, including garden favourites such as lavender, hebe and rosemary - has been found in Italy, France and Spain. Nearly a third (31%) of survey respondents is planning to visit one of these three countries in the next 12 months.

When it comes to the existing restrictions in place at borders, respondents said UK customs (68%) should be responsible for making people in the UK travelling abroad aware of these restrictions, followed by the UK government and governmental departments (59%), travel gateways such as airports, ports, coach and train terminals (51%) and travel operators, such as airlines, ferry and train companies etc (50%).

The RHS and BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time will highlight the importance of plant health at this year’s RHS Chatsworth Flower Show (6-10 June) with an interactive feature to equip the UK’s gardeners with the knowledge and expertise needed to plan and maintain a healthy garden.

As announced in the Tree Health Resilience Strategy published by Defra in May, Defra will launch the ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign this summer to raise awareness of the risks of bringing back cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and plant material from holiday destinations.

Sue Biggs, Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society, said: “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. But we’re asking people to leave these beautiful plants where they are for future visitors to enjoy and not to bring them back home with them. This is vital if we are going to win the fight to protect our gardens against the growing threat of pests and diseases.”

Defra Chief Plant Health Officer, Nicola Spence said: “We’ve invested more than £4.5million to strengthen our border biosecurity, recruiting new plant inspectors and enhancing training. Our inspectors now make more interceptions of harmful organisms than any other EU member state. But we can’t eliminate all risks and we all have a part to play in protecting our plants and trees. Through our ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign we’ll be asking everyone to enjoy the exotic plants and flowers they see on their holidays - but only bring them back to the UK in their memories and pictures.’’

For more information about pests and diseases and what can be done to strengthen the UK’s biosecurity visit


Notes to editors

About the survey: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,066 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 9th May 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).


1. 5% of survey respondents said they were planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months and would consider bringing a plant back with them. Extrapolated for the UK adult population of 51,767,543 (according to the latest ONS data) that equates to 2,588 377.

About the RHS: The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £15 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

For more information please contact Laura Scruby in the RHS press office: / 0207 821 3060

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262