Pro Landscaper Biosecurity Special

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It might seem that biosecurity has become a bit of a buzzword since Brexit, but the UK has been putting preventative measures in place long before we left the European Union. Since ash dieback was first discovered in the UK in 2012, a “transformation” of the UK’s plant health biosecurity has taken place, Defra’s chief plant health officer Nicola Spence tells us (page 7). But whilst the government is putting plant health as a priority, it cannot be working alone. From trade nurseries through to landscapers and garden designers, the entire horticulture industry can be playing its part to prevent plant pathogens from crossing the border. Being aware of biosecurity, and the hoops that those importing plants are having to jump through, is paramount to protecting our landscapes.


Industry members discuss biosecurity measures

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Defra's Nicola Spence on Britain's plant biosecurity


How Brexit prompted changes in imported plant inspections



Dario Spagnoli discusses plant safety across RHS sites


A growing threat to Europe's plant life

21 FOCUS: OAK PROCESSIONARY MOTH How do we stop its spread?



Wykeham on the challenge of plant sourcing


Protecting our nursery stock

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 3 WELCOME
22 18 Nina SPECIAL
The Association of Professional Landscapers

At Beechwood Trees, we have a comprehensive biosecurity policy in place that outlines our procedures for preventing the spread of pests and diseases. We select species specifically to uphold stringent biosecurity standards, and we refrain from utilising certain plant species that are known to pose a heightened risk of disease transmission or have invasive behaviour. Our dedication to biosecurity significantly influences the nurseries we collaborate with as we ensure partnerships with nurseries not only adhere to rigorous biosecurity protocols but also align with Defra guidelines and other relevant legislation. These partnerships ensure that we source high-quality, disease-resistant plants while upholding our commitment to environmental management and regulatory compliance.

We have become more aware of our potential impact on the environment as part of our operations and, over the years, our approach to biosecurity has evolved to adapt to emerging threats and best practices. We stay informed about the latest research and recommendations in biosecurity and continuously update our policies and procedures accordingly. By adhering to biosecurity measures it also helps us comply with regulations and legislation set by organisations like Defra, ensuring responsible and sustainable practices in our operations.



Whilst the UK's attitude and rules surrounding biosecurity may have changed since Brexit, I do question whether it is more of a box tick rather than a real effort to guarantee the efficacy of our biosecurity. However, as a plant importer, biosecurity is very important to me; therefore, my policy is to only deal with suppliers and nurseries in Europe that have stringent inspection and health certification procedures in place. There are some plants that I will not use, such as olive trees due to the threat of Xylella fastidiosa, and I find it strange that these are still being imported in large number given that it can take anything up to six months for it to show. There are, however, many other plants such as Quercus ilex, pines and cedars which are now on an import ban list. For me, dealing with reputable suppliers gives me the reassurance I need in being biosecure. As a gardener and a garden designer, I have always followed organic principles and specifications in relation to both, and therefore have never used chemicals. As there is a wide range of nematode controls available, I do not view this stance as a problem.

As part of being Plant Healthy certificated, we take our biosecurity very seriously, having a clear policy and written procedures around a variety of business activities ranging from buying, quality control, quarantining, APHA hotlines, cleaning, recording, etc. In a business that has reached into many areas of our natural infrastructure, whether through landscaping, forestry, ecology or simply plant sales, our focus is to protect our customers, our business and most importantly our native flora and fauna. This means we make hard commercial decisions and choose not to trade any high-risk Xylella species and actively recommend better risk-free alternatives.

We have a fully active sustainable procurement strategy that encompasses biosecurity. We keep this under constant review, ensuring our knowledge and understanding of how to recognise common pests and diseases is current and we modify our practices to mitigate the spread of any threats.

As a rule of thumb, any species that is prone to disease or pests that cannot be treated without the use of chemicals is on our prohibitive list, and we share our knowledge and concerns to as wide an audience as possible. This only impacts the nurseries we work with in so far that we select pre-approved nurseries who follow good biosecurity practices, and with whom we have longstanding relationships so can vouch for the quality and safety of their plant stock.

It has changed in recent years, becoming more stringent, due to our environmentally and biodiverse working practices. We are ever more careful as to the quality of the stock that we bring onto any client site, as well as ensuring we monitor surrounding green spaces out of our remit, for signs of potential problems.

Q&S works 100% chemical free. Our environmentally, biodiverse working practices rely on the use of biological controls and creative thinking, to find 100% natural solutions to any issues we encounter. We work to eradicate the negative impacts that the use of chemicals and historically poor “grounds maintenance” working practices have had on our green spaces. This has a positive impact for clients and our employees, as we are actively practicing environmentally friendly practices that enhance biodiversity and sustainability, as well as mental health and wellbeing. We are supported in this decision by our wonderful clients.

MERLIN BROOKE-LITTLE Beechwood Trees and Landscapes Ltd
PAYNE Quality & Service Ltd (Q&S) AGENDA Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 4
DK Garden Design Nicholsons


A new £4m national tree health laboratory could help to boost the UK’s defenses against pests and pathogens

Pests are crawling their way up in number in the UK. More than 2,000 reports of tree pests and diseases were made via the TreeAlert service in the 12 months to March 2024, according to Forest Research. Phytophthora ramorum and oak processionary moth are just two pests already present in the UK, and there’s plenty – such as Xylella fastidiosa – that the government is eager to keep out.

To be able to better tackle emerging threats, Defra has invested £4m into a new research and containment facility at the Forest Research Alice Holt Research Station. It will more than double the capacity of the existing Holt containment laboratory, which opened two years ago.

"That marked a significant expansion in our capability to respond and prepare for new pests and pathogens that might affect trees in the UK and provided us with room to work on small trees,” says Gerard Clover, head of tree health at Forest Research.“But we knew that we’d need additional controlled environment space to work in containment on tree pests and pathogens. The funding provides us with that additional space, but also the additional capacity to work on semi-mature trees up to three metres in height, rather than saplings or detached twigs – the trees that are more representative of those in the wider environment.”

The UK Plant Health Risk Register helps to create an awareness of some of the new pests and pathogens on the horizon that the UK might be concerned about in the future, such as Emerald ash borer. Originally from Asia, where it has largely adapted to host plants and causes little damage, the pest has spread

We have this opportunity and support from Defra, so it's really beholden on us to make use of the opportunity and get this operational as soon as possible

to North America and killed more than 100 million American ash trees. It has more recently been spotted in Russia and then Ukraine.“We’re concerned it might continue to move westward, so we’re trying to understand the threat it poses to us and how damaging it would likely be to our ash trees. We have a different ash species here (Fraxinus excelsior) to those in North America; it is more genetically similar to some of the Asian species which

are resistant, so we want to understand how Emerald ash borer might reproduce here. We need to do that in containment, and whilst we can work on saplings, trees change as they get older – their physiology and morphology, the thickness of the bark, etc. – so having more mature trees enables us to better understand the threat of Emerald ash borer were it to arrive in the UK.”

The new facility will also help with identifying pests and pathogens that are intercepted at the border or during surveillance programmes, adds Clover, who worked as head of plant health for the Royal Horticultural Society before joining Forest Research three years ago.

He is expecting the new facility to be operational as early as the next financial year.

“We have this opportunity and support from Defra, so it's really beholden on us to make use of the opportunity and get this operational as soon as possible.”

Globalisation and climate change are “increasing tree health pressures”, and the new facility gives the UK the “opportunity to put in place the right mitigations, and we want to do that as quickly as possible.”

NEWS Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 5
The existing research facility in Surrey which opened in 2022

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Defra’s chief plant health officer Nicola Spence CBE on overhauling Britain’s approach to biosecurity, developing Plant Healthy, and introducing Border Control Posts

It’s been 10 years since Nicola Spence CBE took on the role of chief plant health officer at Defra. In that time, she’s had to contend with the aftermath of the ash dieback outbreak, the threat of the Asian hornet and later Xylella fastidiosa spreading across mainland Europe. Then there’s oak processionary moth creeping its way across South East England, and most recently the impact that leaving the European Union has had on the way that Britain imports plants from the continent.

Needless to say, the last decade has not been an easy one. But in that time, the plant biosecurity system in the UK has been “transformed”, says Spence – something which she says has been a collaborative effort. Whilst government has led, “we’ve also had a lot of support from industry, from the charitable sector and from the public.”

This transformation is arguably a silver lining of ash dieback being found in the UK in 2012. The fungus is expected to kill up to 80% of the UK’s ash trees and cost Britain a staggering £15bn, according to the Woodland Trust. Eager to avoid a similar fate from other pests and diseases crossing the border, Defra reviewed its management of potential threats, producing a report with a series of recommendations.

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 7 INTERVIEW

There have since been a string of changes, improvements and innovations under Spence’s guidance, one of these being the establishment of a “very robust risk and horizon scanning process” to see where threats are globally, how they could reach the UK, and what would need to be done if they did. The UK Plant Health Risk Register, which is publicly available, now has 1,400 threats recorded. “It's the only one like it in the world, so I think that's a really important tool. We use it, but also industry now uses it to better manage risk.”

Defra now also has a “well developed contingency plan” in place to ensure it’s better prepared, with pestspecific plans for the “biggest threats”.

“So, we are ready, if something arrives.

But hopefully, we'd know about it in advance because we're better at managing risk.”

This is being achieved through working with industry, says Spence –something which is arguably exemplified by Plant Healthy, the UK plant health standard published in 2019, and its certification scheme launched to industry the following year whereby businesses and nurseries can become Plant Healthy accredited. This process allows them to “better manage risk in their business and supply chains,” says Spence.

longevity. We've got about 70 businesses now registered, and that number's growing all the time. It is linked to public procurement and tree planting grants, and that has made a big difference; we've seen a big jump in the number of businesses becoming accredited. And from a government point of view, we can reward that by specifying that standard in government procurement schemes for tree planting and plants generally.”

Plant Healthy, and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is rolling it out across its five gardens, receiving certification for three so far. But Spence says it’s “more difficult for small businesses to perhaps see the benefit, so we need to work on that.” Plant Healthy’s new project director Malcolm Catlin will be working alongside Defra “to make sure that we're doing as much as we can to get this scheme rolled out and to deliver much more value.”

It's a scheme that's proving valuable for all of us, and our commitment is that we will continue to look for opportunities to link government procurement schemes with that standard

Having worked its way through the recommendations of the Tree Health and Biosecurity Task Force, Defra is now moving onto the “the more future-looking challenges and areas for us to work on,” publishing a new fiveyear Plant Biosecurity Strategy last year to replace the one set out in 2014 following the discovery of ash dieback.

There are four key outcomes that it aims to deliver ahead of 2028: a world class biosecurity regime; a society that values healthy plants; a biosecure plant supply chain; and an enhanced technical capability.

Rather than being “imposed” on industry, the Plant Healthy scheme has been developed with them, she adds. “That gives it more

Accredited companies are finding the certification to be “really valuable to the business... in that they are thinking about where their supplies are coming from, how they manage plants coming onto their premises, and how they can better manage risk. I've heard firsthand from nurseries saying it has transformed the way they do business. So, I think it's a scheme that's proving valuable for all of us, and our commitment is that we will continue to look for opportunities to link government procurement schemes with that standard so that there's even more benefit in becoming Plant Healthy assured.”

Even botanic gardens such as Edinburgh and Kew have signed up to the scheme and become

It has already delivered “quite a lot” in terms of its international action plan and research priorities, explains Spence. This year, it will be focusing its attention on ecommerce to do more to manage the risks. "Plants traded through the internet are under exactly the same regulations, there is no difference; our challenge is finding those trades and enforcing. So, we're putting a lot of resource into the Animal and Plant Health Agency internet trading unit to beef that up.”

Defra will also be working with its partners in the Public Engagement in Plant Health accord – an agreement between 32 organisations including the RHS and the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) that was announced at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show two years ago – to “push out messages about plant health” to their members and the public, recently using National Plant Health Week in May as an opportunity to raise awareness.

Perhaps most significant to the landscaping industry, though, is the Border Target Operating Model that was published last summer, which sets out how the UK will manage imports Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 8 INTERVIEW

following its departure from the European Union. It’s “essentially the operationalisation of our biosecurity strategy” to focus on the material that the UK is most concerned about.

operated an EU regime, and that was based on risks to the whole of the EU. So, we had to implement controls based on protecting the whole of the EU territory. What we've been able to do more recently is develop a bespoke system to protect Great Britain against particular threats, but also to stop checking things that are not a threat. We used to have to check a lot of goods, like citrus fruits, for example, because that's a threat to the EU – we don't check that anymore.”

since been considered and a decision made based on whether it poses a low, medium or high risk. At the end of April, controls of medium and lower risk goods were phased in and moved to Border Control Posts, which have replaced the Place of Destination (PoD) system that has been in place for the last three years. Rather than heading straight to a site that has been registered as a PoD for inspection, all lorries selected now need to report to a Border Control Post or a Control Point, an inland inspection facility.

but for lower risk goods, it's either 5% or sometimes as low as 2%. It means that we stop things even before they enter Britain, and we can either send them back or

This, along with the introduction of electronic phytosanitary certificates which are being brought in, will give Britain “much better controls” and will be “much more efficient” too. And whilst the Border Control Posts will help to a certain extent, the landscaping industry can also do its part to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

Whilst the PoD system was “quite convenient for industry”, it meant that Animal and Plant Health Agency inspectors were servicing 7,000 of them across the UK, which Spence says is “not very efficient”. “But also, if

What we've been able to do more recently is develop a bespoke system to protect Great Britain against

particular threats, but also to stop checking things that are not a threat

there is a pest, then it ends up on a nursery or in a retail operation – and that's too late. We need to stop it at the border. We need to check the material – and we've got appropriate levels of checks based on risks. So, for the highest risk hosts of Xylella fastidiosa, it's 100%,

"For landscapers, it's looking out for things like oak processionary moth. It's the beginning of the season, so we want people to look out for caterpillars and nests in oak trees. There are also things like sweet chestnut blight, which is a kind of orangey fungus that grows on the stems of sweet chestnut trees. When they're putting in large numbers of perhaps more mature trees, it's looking out for any signs of disease, because once it's planted and they've moved onto their next job, then unless people are looking and checking, we might miss something. If they see anything suspicious, they can report it to us through Tree Alert, which is an online reporting system.”

As Spence continues to allude to, Defra is eager to work with industry to ensure Britain’s biosecurity is the best that it can be. And whilst she avoids saying ‘I’ when talking about the changes that have occurred over the last 10 years, her own contribution as the UK’s first chief plant health officer has been significant. Two years ago, she was rewarded for her efforts when she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to plant health. Rather than resting on her laurels, though, Spence is turning her attention to the remaining four years of Defra’s latest strategy – one that will see the transformation of the UK’s plant biosecurity system continue.

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 9 INTERVIEW
Oak processionary moth Ash dieback present Olive trees affected by Xylella fastidiosa

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Leaving the European Union has led to an overhaul of the way imported plants are inspected

In the four years since the UK left the European Union, the way we import and inspect plants has changed drastically.

This year has seen perhaps the biggest change of all, with all imports selected for inspection now needing to go via a Border Control Post (BCP) as of the end of April.

This is arguably the most significant stage of the government’s Border Target Operating Model. “The tweaks that have happened since Brexit have been inconveniences to a degree and a bit more paperwork; but this is a fundamental change to the process,” says Richard McKenna, managing director of Provender Nurseries.

The BCPs have replaced the Place of Destination (PoD) system –a ‘temporary’ solution whilst the BCP model was being implemented, one which has been in place for the last three years, despite initially being touted as a six-month fix. Nurseries and landscaping sites could

The tweaks that have happened since

Brexit have been inconveniences to a degree and a bit more paperwork; but this is a fundamental change to the process

apply to become a PoD, meaning that plants could be sent directly to them and inspected on site, rather than at the border. But the PoD system has now ceased to exist and plants requiring inspection will be stopped at the border.

“If they have been selected for inspection, the plants will not be able to leave the boundaries of the port, and the lorry must report to the Border Control Post,” explains Sally Cullimore, technical policy manager at the Horticultural Trades

Association (HTA).“The only time they would be allowed to exit the port, if they were selected for inspection, is if they were going to a Control Point.” These Control Points are inland inspection facilities where Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks can also be carried out, and a nursery can apply to become one, though this is not quite as straightforward as it sounds.

So, why the change? When Britain left the European Union at the start of 2020, and in the absence of a plant health agreement or similar with the EU, it had to start abiding by World Trade Organization rules and began working towards introducing Border Control Posts, with an initial date set for the summer in 2021.

Despite ‘Brexit’ and ‘biosecurity’ becoming synonymous to some, the UK already had biosecurity measures in place. Before December 2019, and ahead of full plant passporting coming in, there was a “simple process” with a fairly quick turnaround between placing an order and receiving it on site, says Cullimore. At the end of 2019, but prior to Brexit, everything had to have a plant passport for traceability purposes and for assurance that the supplier had carried out a plant health check.

FEATURE Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 11

There were “national measures” too. For example, if part of the EU had a pest that wasn’t present in the UK, then national measures could be put in place requiring anybody importing at-risk plants to pre-notify and the plants would be inspected once they arrived at the nursery, or the UK could prohibit the at-risk plants from being imported. In other words, robust measures were available when necessary under EU plant health rules. This, if it were coupled with a robust voluntary scheme such as Plant Healthy and plant passporting, would “cover all bases,” says Cullimore.

Many popular plant lines are produced in Europe and sent over, so they still need to be imported somewhere along the line

Once Brexit came into effect, the process became more complicated with a series of additional costs and extra resources around prenotification. The new Border Control Post system has since introduced a “very complex process at the border that may or may not involve some significant costs,” with no checks taking place after the border.

It’s another hit to the already shallow pockets of UK nurseries. Costs for simply running a nursery have increased dramatically in recent years, many occurring since Brexit, such as raw material costs (like plastic), energy prices, wage bills, transitioning to peat free and the initial costs of Brexit. All compounded by the lingering impacts of covid-19 and the surge in demand caused by the pandemic – all of which have already impacted plant prices over the last four years or so. Unfortunately for nurseries, it’s difficult to predict how much switching to BCPs will impact them, but it’s bound to take its toll.

All lorries passing through the government’s new £147m Border Control Post at Sevington near Dover – and all government run BCPs, should more be built in the future – need to pay a Common User Charge (CUC) to cover the cost of unloading and reloading the lorries. The CUC is £29 per commodity line for all medium and high-risk goods, with a maximum charge of £145, so nurseries will be paying for up to five commodity lines per lorry. That’s in addition to the plant health inspection fees.

This is a known cost at least. “What you can’t possibly forecast is how long the driver will be waiting for that inspection at Sevington,” says Cullimore. “So, everything arriving at Sevington will be on a lorry,

and it will be driven by a driver who will have to wait for that inspection to take place, and we have no way of knowing how long they’ll be waiting. So, there will be charges for that driver’s time which are utterly unforecastable.”

Delays could also reduce truck capacity, pushing up haulage prices, and might even spark hauliers to no longer bother with the UK market, warns Stuart Tickner, Provender Nurseries’ head of biosecurity and production.

To limit the impact, Provender Nurseries has successfully applied to become a Control Point, converting a building for this purpose. “We should be able to bring in plants quicker and more easily, with less damage, and in a timeline that we can control within reason,” says McKenna.

“There will still be some minor increases in cost, though. We have to cover the paperwork and offloading, for instance, and we still have to have the plants inspected here,” adds Tickner. And that’s on top of the time, money and infrastructure required to build a CP, plus the ongoing costs to run such a facility.

It’s not just nurseries that will feel the effect of the new BCPs, though. If nurseries don’t know how the price of plants could be impacted, then landscapers and garden designers don’t know either and it could impact how they quote for future work –and could even impact existing jobs if they quoted months ago without being aware of the potential price hikes.

If trucks are delayed and stock is sitting in the back of a lorry at a BCP in 30-degree heat, becoming dry and damaged, then there could be more wastage too.

Availability might also be impacted because of the CUC being charged by commodity line. Some nurseries might try to keep below the maximum £145 charge by ordering more of the same rather than small amounts of multiple lines, and landscapers might find it costly to put in small orders for numerous products from the continent. And the solution is not to ‘buy British’, says Tickner. “Many popular plant lines are produced in Europe and sent over, so they still need to be imported somewhere along the line.”

The government’s ‘pragmatic approach’ might hide the impact of the BCP system for the first few months. But as soon as the inspection rate ramps up to 100%, there is bound to be a hit on plant prices and availability – and it won’t just be nurseries taking it on the chin. Landscapers and garden designers need to prepare too. As Tickner says, “it really will affect the horticultural industry as a whole.”

FEATURE Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 12
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With show season well underway for the RHS, biosecurity specialist Dario Spagnoli takes the lead on ensuring plant safety across all sites

Each year, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) puts on up to six different flower shows, including its most prolific at Chelsea. Last year, there were 36 gardens and 90 exhibits at the show, with many gardens featuring an average of more than 3,000 plants. Ensuring these are all healthy, especially with the number of plant suppliers at the event, is understandably a top priority.

As well as the policy which sets the tone for its stance on biosecurity, the RHS has a robust list of regulations that lay out the rules and expectations for planting to follow across all sites and shows.

And whilst plant health inspections involve checking and testing for pests and diseases, this is only one small part of the measures to be met, as biosecurity highlights the precautions put in place that need to be ticked off first and foremost.

Wanting to make that distinction really clear, biosecurity specialist for RHS shows Dario Spagnoli has been working with the charity for the past seven years.

Each regulation is reviewed and updated annually, following the end of the show season, as well as throughout the year based on government legislation. Anything made redundant is removed and any changes added are amended and communicated as soon as possible. “We try to help as much as we can. We have different ways of communicating so we can be quite reactive,” says Spagnoli.

“We would send an update out through our exhibitor services team, who will then email this out to all exhibitors, and therefore have all have the information instantaneously to allow us to effectively deal with a problem if it was to occur.”

Spagnoli works with each show team to identify exhibitors that would be affected by going through all show garden plant lists. They would then speak to the designers directly and provide a crib sheet for alternative plants if necessary.

New for 2024 comes the prohibition of Gunnera manicata, Brazilian giant rhubarb, and all other large leaf Gunnera species, following a piece of research conducted by the RHS which highlighted concerns around identifying the true species of Gunnera manicata versus the invasive species of Gunnera tinctoria and Gunnera x cryptica.

“The reason why this is an issue is that under government legislation you can't grow or sell certain plant species due to their invasiveness in the UK, and therefore shouldn't be cultivating it in any form,” says Spagnoli.

This is because invasive species have the ability to Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 14 FEATURE
Dario Spagnoli Plant passport check by Dario

spread across the environment and cause a series of problems. “Through the research, it was shown that the Gunnera samples that were taken from around 300 different

Each regulation is reviewed and updated annually, following the end of the show season, as well as throughout the year based on government legislation

locations, were shown to be as majority tinctoria or cryptica, which is the hybrid of manicata and tinctoria – so, either the invasive species, or a hybrid of the invasive species.”

But for Spagnoli, invasive species are not

necessarily the biggest problem he faces. There's Xylella fastidiosa, the high-profile bacterial disease causing a high risk to a wide range of plants predominantly across Europe. As a result, host plants such as Polygala myrtifolia (polygala), Olea europaea (olive), Coffea (coffee), and Spartium junceum (Spanish broom) have been prohibited from RHS shows since 2022.

Although the majority of these plants will be imported for sale, that is not to say that all imported plants are prohibited, but simply that they come with an increased risk.

“We want to keep our shows as safe as we possibly can, and with this particular pathogen a confirmed detection in the UK

would result in strict control measures and movement restrictions, depending on whether Defra determines it to be an outbreak or interception,” says Spagnoli.

Having prohibited a selection of Xylella high-risk host plants, there are a few exceptions with four other highrisk hosts grown in the UK. Plants such as lavender, rosemary, and almond will need to be in the UK for a minimum of 12 months before they can be signed off by the biosecurity team – and this

FEATURE Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 15
Background image©RHS/Neil Hepworth
©RHS/Tim Sandall
©RHS/Sarah Cuttle RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Great Pavilion nursery exhibit, 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Main Avenue show garden, 2023

is where plant passports come in, another example of the eight regulations in place to protect biosecurity.

“We will always ask for passports for show garden plants, because it's a businessto-business transaction and therefore they're legally required to have UK plant passports for their plant material.”

Spagnoli and his team will ensure that every plant has a paper trail to prove that show plants meet our regulations.

“We check plant passports, import documents, phytosanitary certificates and invoices to ensure the plants on site meet RHS and Defra requirements.

We want to keep our shows as safe as we possibly can, and with this particular pathogen a confirmed detection in the UK would result in strict control measures

“That's an important one really, traceability wise, because if we had a problem on the site, for example, we would obviously rely on that

paperwork to allow us to start the tracing process to track down where the problem came from and what else may be affected.” Spagnoli is nothing if not thorough in his work, with over 17 years of industry experience including plant buying and sales for nurseries, designers and show gardens. In 2018 Spagnoli took on the role of plant procurement manager for RHS Garden Bridgewater, sourcing all plants for the new garden over two years, and developing procurement and growing contracts with biosecurity regulations. Since then, his enthusiasm and dedication to maintaining a biosecure environment for all, has only grown –ensuring that all RHS shows are as healthy as they can be.

New guidance for 2024 - Exhibitors to be vigilant for signs of Tobacco whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) on imported tender/ tropical/subtropical plants. (Exhibitor training on white flies provided.)

Show garden plants must have UK plant passports. Plants ordered at a show which are later sent to a customer require a plant passport

Five Xylella fastidiosa high-risk host plants are prohibited from use from RHS shows.

Semi-mature trees, palms, and tree ferns (Single stem or multi-stem, above five metres high and/or stem girth of more than 20cm – girth is measured one to 1.2m high from the base of the tree) must be in the UK for three months minimum before use at a show.

All oak (Quercus) species of any size are prohibited from RHS Chelsea Flower Show and RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, to comply with Defra legislation which prevents oak processionary moth spreading into the UK Pest Free Area.

Exhibitors must declare all spruce (Picea) species taller than three metres via the Exhibitor Pre-Site form. This is to ensure that APHA inspects the spruce before it leaves a show site, as required by the Forestry Commission. Undeclared Spruce will not be able to leave a show site until an inspection by APHA has been completed.

Exhibitors should ensure they comply with CITES and other conservation legislation which is intended to protect plant species and the habitats in which they grow.

The use or sale of non-native invasive plant species (any part of a plant) at RHS shows must be in line with current UK legislation.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
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Puglia is renowned for its olive trees. The Italian region, that forms the ‘heel’ of bootshaped Italy, used to produce nearly half of the country’s olive oil. But in 2013, there was an outbreak of a plant pathogen that has since devastated olive plantations in the area, killing more than 20 million trees – and it hasn’t stopped in Puglia. Xylella fastidiosa has been found in Corsica, mainland France, Spain, Portugal and Germany in the following years.

The bacterium is spread by insects that feed on the sap of plants, such as froghoppers and spittlebugs. They transmit Xylella fastidiosa through their saliva as they go from plant to plant, causing the xylem vessels – which carry water and nutrients to the leaves – to become blocked.

“It stunts growth and causes leave scorch, wilt and dieback and eventual death to plants, although they will struggle on for many years, which then increases the risk of transmitting it,” says Dave Baldwin, managing director of Quercus Nursery in Sussex, which imports a variety of plants from the continent, including olive trees.

But whilst olive trees might have become the “poster boy” for Xylella, the bacterium has more than 500 species, from lavender and rosemary to coffee trees and Prunus such as plums and cherries. “They’re still finding different strains of Xylella which affect different plants in different ways; it doesn’t just affect olives. Greater quantities of

Europe has been fighting the spread of Xylella fastidiosa for more than a decade Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 18 FEATURE

lavender and rosemary are probably moved more on a day-to-day basis in horticulture and therefore would probably pose a greater risk of transmitting into the UK than olives.”

They’re still finding different strains of Xylella which affect different plants in different ways; it doesn’t just affect olives

Xylella is fortunately yet to reach the UK, and the ramifications if it does are enough to put anyone importing its host species on edge. Retained EU legislation demands that, where an outbreak occurs, all hosts within 100m must be destroyed. Those moving host plants within a fivekilometre buffer zone are also subject to restricted movement and planting of certain plants for a minimum of four years to prevent further spread.

At least four subspecies of Xylella have been discovered, including pauca – which impacts coffee, citrus and olive trees – and multiplex, which infects a range of trees and perennial plants and is arguably the highest risk to the UK, due to its higher tolerance of a cooler climate and wide range of hosts. It’s not the easiest pathogen to spot, though, with detection sometimes taking several months. “There are lots of diseases which could cause what could possibly be Xylella. The only way to tell is to take samples, send these off and get them tested, or invite the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to come and take a look. A hold notice would then be put on the movement of those plants until the test results come back.”

In the UK, new measures were introduced in 2021 that further restricted the importation of high-risk host species for Xylella – such as Olea europaea (common olive) and Prunus dulcis (almond) – and placed measures around medium-risk host plants as well.

But the “longer Xylella is present in Europe, the more chance there is of it being moved to the UK,” says Baldwin. “Imports from Holland are amongst the highest to the UK, but a lot of those plants are sourced from other countries such as Spain and then come via Holland to the UK without people realising where they have originated from.”

Should it reach the UK, it could be devastating for native plants

Should it reach the UK, “it could be devastating for native plants,” warns Baldwin. “Oaks and elms, for instance, are all susceptible to Xylella. For the landscaping sector, it could wipe out certain crops and restrict the movement of plant materials which, if there are 500 varieties of plants that can’t be moved, could devastate individual businesses if they’re affected by hold notices or exclusion zones, which would be brought in.

“On a wider scale, you'd reduce the types of plants that are available to landscape designers and retail customers because you just wouldn't be able to move them or

grow them; they'd be left until such varieties are bred that are disease resistant.”

If Quercus Nursery were to have an outbreak of Xylella, Baldwin says the business would struggle to recover. So, it’s stringent in its biosecurity measures. “We’re plant passported and subject to the necessary plant health inspections and restrictions. We make sure we source plants from reputable suppliers, and everything is checked before it comes to us and then checked again.

“It’s not possible for APHA to police all imports, so it has to be down to individual nurseries and importers to be vigilant and do their own checks. You can always get in touch with APHA if there is anything you’re not sure about.”

At the moment, there is no cure for the fast-spreading bacterium, and a decade after its outbreak in Puglia, it remains one of the biggest biosecurity concerns for plant imports to the UK. With the potential to devastate nurseries and drastically reduce plant availability, it’s crucial that the horticulture industry prevents Xylella fastidiosa from crossing the border.

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 19 FEATURE
Olive trees affected by bacteria Xylella fastidiosa in Lecce, Puglia Olive grove affected by Xylella fastidiosa in Puglia, Italy



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With the pest already present in the UK, the focus is on preventing its spread and eradicating it


For nearly 20 years, oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) has been slithering its way across South East England. It was first discovered in southwest London in 2005 and has since become established across other parts of London and surrounding areas, with a buffer zone being created around the ‘established area’ to try to slow its spread.

In 2019, the government brought in tougher restrictions on the import of most species of oak into England to try to prevent it from reaching other parts of the country. Only tree stock from OPM free countries and designated pest free areas or those that have been grown under complete physical protection for their lifetime can be imported or moved.

The pest, which is native to southern Europe, is most active from April through to July. In mid to late summer, the adult moths emerge from pupae, mating and laying eggs in oak trees but surviving only for a few days. These eggs hatch in spring, between March and late April, growing and becoming darker in colour, with numerous white hairs. They construct white webbing nests on the trunks and branches of oak trees, moving about in nose-to-tail processions, hence their name.

These caterpillars feed on oak leaves, causing defoliation on parts of the tree and leaving the trees more vulnerable to other

pests and diseases. But it’s the tiny white hairs that are the biggest cause for concern. They can cause rashes and respiratory problems when they come into contact with humans or animals. That’s why anyone who spots what could be oak processionary moth should report the sighting via TreeAlert so that it can be removed by a professional. Helping with the removal of these irritating pests is Husqvarna’s dust extractor range. Avoiding the use of chemicals or the need to burn infested oak trees, the dust extractors can vacuum up the caterpillars and their nests without the user coming into contact with the tiny hairs. There are corded and battery versions available, including one which uses the 36V battery common in Husqvarna’s forestry and garden range.

PPE clad users can either remain on the ground and use an extended hose to reach up to the nests or take the dust extractor up on a lifting platform.“The vacuum is strong enough to pull everything inside, where all the debris will be collected in a bag at the bottom,” says Ian Digger, product manager at Husqvarna Construction. “Depending on the dust extractor, there are one or two

HEPA filters, that will capture the extremely small particles, 99.99% of particles sized 0.3 microns. Once you’ve finished, all you need to do is pull the bag down, ziptie it in two places, then

Anyone who spots what could be oak processionary moth should report the sighting via TreeAlert so that it can be removed by a professional

cut the bag away and dispose of it. You don't need to come into contact with the contents.” The equipment can be cleaned internally and externally and, eventually, the main filter will need to be disposed of and replaced once it becomes full, though Ian Digger says this would take a while to occur by OPM removal.“It’s a very effective way of removing OPM, as opposed to using chemicals or pesticides which can have just as much of an effect in a public area as the caterpillars themselves.”

Oak processionary moth might have already crossed the border, but measures – from those imposed by the government to removal methods such as those from Husqvarna –are being taken to eradicate it and save our native oak trees.

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 21
Husqvarna DE110i H H-Class Dust Extractor


Adam Smith explains why using only ‘British grown’ isn't necessarily the

answer to biosecurity

Not only is our nursery in North Yorkshire but it’s also in a frost pocket, so much so that we can be the coldest place for miles around, and therefore we know that what we grow here is hardy and that gives our customers piece of mind. However, that does mean that there are some things that we simply can’t grow here, no matter how much we’d like to in order to meet customer demand. We do, of course, source plants for our customers and being Plant Healthy certified helps to give our customers reassurance regarding our commitment to quality and biosecurity –but ‘traded in Yorkshire’ or ‘resold in Yorkshire’ (as a number of other businesses specialise in) simply isn’t ever going to be the same as plants we’ve tended and nurtured here in the conditions of our own nursery. Of course, sourcing lines when necessary to help customers complete their designs and plant schedules (UK customers have, after all, been accustomed over the years to such a wide range of plants, readily available at a moment's notice, due to easy imports prior to Brexit) has become both more challenging and more expensive recently. Sourcing from other UK nurseries to keep costs down and for, hopefully, fewer risks from a biosecurity standpoint, is of course preferred, but even if full ‘British grown’ provenance can be assured, the conditions that the plants may have been grown in, and the variation in microclimate of other nurseries, mean that the hardiness of the stock can vary considerably.

Species considered as hardy down south are often unsuitable for planting further north, just as “hardy” species grown in warmer conditions need time to harden-off if being used on colder sites. The risks of planting tender stock imported from

Without proper biosecurity procedures and practices in place, buying ‘British grown’ sadly may be no guarantee of safe, healthy stock any more than it is of quality

Mediterranean areas, particularly at the wrong time of year, without first having been hardened off are obvious but some lines may be difficult to find elsewhere and, ironically, there are times when Dutch stock may be hardier and better suited to northern gardens


than plants grown in the south of England. Similarly, without proper biosecurity procedures and practices in place – such as those supported by the Plant Healthy certification scheme – buying ‘British grown’ sadly may be no guarantee of safe, healthy stock any more than it is of quality.

Ultimately, there are no easy answers and no silver bullet. If you want quality stock, you must buy from growers that you trust; ones that you can talk to and rely on to be honest with you and, most importantly, ones which take biosecurity seriously.

Not sourcing stock from elsewhere for our customers when necessary isn’t practical; customers won’t want to have to shop around anymore than is necessary; but first and foremost, we are a grower not a trader/reseller and will always prefer to supply our customers with the plants that we have nurtured and cared for ourselves.

Adam Smith is general manager at Wykeham Mature Plants, a 150-acre, Plant Healthy certified nursery near Scarborough in North Yorkshire. The nursery is part of the Dawnay Estates and is situated in a frost pocket in the Vale of Pickering. Prior to working at Wykeham Mature Plants, Smith has decades of experience of nursery and trade sales within the horticulture industry. Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 22

Q: What is biosecurity?

A: In a nutshell, it refers to “a set of precautions that aim to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful organisms,” says the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). “These include non-native pests, such as insects, and disease-causing organisms called pathogens, such as some viruses, bacteria and fungi. These pests and pathogens threaten the health of our plants and trees the same way such types of organisms threaten the health of humans and animals.”

Q: Why should we care about it?

A: Plants are a “crucially important part of our economy”, says APHA. Nearly all (98%) of the oxygen we breathe is produced by plants, and 1.3 billion kilograms of air pollutants are removed by plants in the UK each year.

But they’re increasingly under threat from pests and diseases, it adds. “Since the early 2000s, there has been a significant increase in the number of non-native tree pests and diseases being introduced into the UK, and this is being further exacerbated by climate change. The government has put in place rigorous controls to prevent introductions, but it's really important that we as individuals do as much as we can to reduce spread through biosecurity measures.”

The estimated cost of ash dieback to the UK economy is “eyewatering”, says Plant Healthy’s Alistair Yeomans. “Ash trees have many obligate species that rely on the ash tree to be


The need-to-know answers around biosecurity

thriving; so, if you lose an ash tree, you lose a number of other species as well. It can be quite ecologically damaging. Every time one of these pests comes in, it potentially takes another or several plants off the palette of plants that we can use in landscape design schemes.”

Then there’s the cost to local authorities to manage and eradicate the risk, and the loss of the ecosystem services that the impacted trees provide such as flood alleviation and amenity value. APHA says 15,000L of water can be intercepted by a mature evergreen tree each year, mitigating flood risk.

Q: Who needs to be aware of biosecurity?

A: It’s not just trade nurseries and garden centres that need to be aware of biosecurity, but also landscapers and garden designers, some of whom are importing plants directly from the continent. Finger pointing at those who are not taking precautions is not the answer, says Yeomans. Instead, we need to be bringing people on this movement and sharing knowledge. “Continual improvement is at the heart of the Plant Health Management Standard and our membership.”

Q: What is Plant Healthy?

A: It’s a certification scheme, but at the heart of it is the Plant Health Management Standard, says Yeomans. “The 31 requirements effectively form a framework for applying plant biosecurity measures to a horticultural site – a site that handles or manages live plant material, permanent or transient. The standard was

written by horticulturists for horticulturists, but with the input from the research community and policymakers. So, we’ve tried to bring together a workable balance of measures that are effective in stopping the spread of these notifiable pests and diseases.”

It’s a “really useful tool” to support people in putting “good biosecurity measures” in place. “Then there’s the certification scheme where they can demonstrate compliance through independent inspections.”

There are nearly 70 certified members, from nurseries to royal botanic gardens such as those in Edinburgh and Kew. A technical advisory group made up of growers, arborists, landscapers and those who manage public gardens has also been set up to examine how to improve the Standard based on evidence and best practice.

Q: What is government doing to protect plant health?

A: Protecting Britain’s biosecurity is a “priority for government”, says APHA, and there are “rigorous plant health measures in place” that are in line with legal obligations and international standards. There’s a dedicated programme of risk and horizon scanning, for instance, “which continuously and proactively assesses emerging threats to plant health and the potential impact on the UK.”

Where there’s “reasonable suspicion to believe that a quarantine pest requiring statutory action may be present,” government might take “precautionary and robust action” to destroy host plants. But government cannot act alone, says APHA.“We all have a collective role and responsibility to protect our plant health.”

FAQs Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 23

Q: How many species are banned from being imported to the UK?

A: Some commodities are prohibited from being imported into Britain from certain countries, and some are subject to permanent prohibition due to an inherent pest and disease risk, says APHA. “There are also goods that are prohibited pending a submission of a technical dossier from an exporting National Plant Protection Organisation to support the import of a specific trade.” A full list of all prohibited commodities can be found on the Plant Health Portal.

Q: How can the landscaping industry help with biosecurity?

A: APHA offers advice for how the industry can help to prevent pests and diseases from entering the UK or spreading.

• Buy responsibly – source plants from reputable nurseries and suppliers.

• Clean your boots – after visiting woodlands and parks to help limit the spread of potentially devastating plant diseases.

• ‘Don’t risk it!’ – please don’t bring any plant or tree products back from trips abroad because these might be carrying harmful non-native plant and tree pests or pathogens.

• Report any trees that you suspect are in ill-health to the Forestry Commission, through Tree Alert or to APHA.

• Understand what government is doing at a national level – read the Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain.

• Build your own awareness about different plant pests and diseases and the biosecurity actions you should take – visit the Plant Health Action website and look at the FC Biosecurity Toolkit.

• Be aware of restrictions on imports and movement for biosecurity – for example, movement restrictions for large oaks in Great Britain.

• Buy plants from Plant Healthy Certified nurseries and encourage others to do the same.

Q: What questions could the trade be asking nurseries?

A: Firstly, are they Plant Healthy certified? If not, can they provide their plant biosecurity policy? Who is the person responsible, and can you have a conversation with them? “If the business says no to both of these, then you probably need to ask several more questions,” says Yeomans. He suggests encouraging that business to perhaps explore the Plant Healthy website, where several helpful resources can be freely accessed.

Q: What should you do if you spot a pest or disease?

A: "You can use Tree Alert to report suspected pests and diseases found anywhere in the UK,” says APHA.“Tree Alert is used to gather information about tree health issues across Great Britain. This information supports important tree health monitoring and surveillance work, contributes to ongoing scientific research, and helps to protect the nation's trees.”

Q: Are there resources and/or training available on biosecurity?

A: Yeomans suggests interacting with trade associations, such as the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) and the Arboricultural Association. The Landscape Institute also produced ‘Plant Health and Biosecurity: The Landscape Consultants Toolkit’ in 2019, in partnership with BALI, the SGD and the Association of Professional Landscapers. All are members of the Plant Health Alliance which is behind Plant Healthy. There are resources available on the Plant Healthy website as well as e-learning modules that are free to access.

Overall, pushing for a more biosecure industry should be seen as a positive“something we’re trying to do together and grow collectively a body of knowledge and address an issue proactively .”

FAQs Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 24

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Tree dies from collar rot as a result of being planted too deep A production nursery supplied Quercus ilex that had 130mm of soil above the root flare
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Managing director of Majestic Trees, Steve McCurdy, discusses his views and experience with biosecurity

How did you first come into the industry?

I first came into the industry in 1976. Growing up, both sides of my family were from farming backgrounds, so I was exposed to that type of country lifestyle from a very early age. My grandmother on my mother's side was also a fantastic gardener. She could grow anything, and I used to spend at least eight weeks a year with her, so she really was the one who got me hooked on growing things. I think that's why I got started down the horticultural route. I then applied to be an apprentice at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately got turned down which was a bit disappointing at the time. So, I ended up working with Thomas Rochfords & Sons (now closed), which had 400 employees at the time.

It was the biggest nursery in Europe, and that is how I got my chance at horticulture.

Every year, it had these apprenticeship programmes, and that was an especially important part of how we would train and develop our skills. So, when the chance to go oversees with the programme arose, I took the opportunity and went to the US for

Biosecurity is very, very important. As a result, we have personally tagged almost every single tree that comes to our nursery

a year. It was great exposure – not to mention it allowed me to meet my wife. When I returned to the UK in 2000, I started my first company working for myself, and I have been in business now for around 40 years. But it wasn’t until 2002 that we launched Majestic Trees.

Can you tell us a bit about your company? Majestic Trees opened in May and started shipping in September that year. At that time, of course, I would do everything. As it was only a small company, I would juggle everything from sales to buying, to managing the nursery, etc. But as it grew, I built the team and started delegating more and more of those different jobs. Now, most of my time is spent sitting at a desk.

I like to take on new projects and see them off, delegating each one to the right member of the management team – some of whom have been working with me for up to 20 years now – and ultimately, I’m training them up for my inevitable retirement.

Majestic Trees is now an Employee Owned Trust, with the six managers all becoming directors Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 26 FEATURE

What do you do in terms of biosecurity?

Biosecurity is very, very important. As a result, we have personally tagged almost every single tree that comes to our nursery. We physically go to the site, inspect, and tag each tree with a security tag.

I have always believed that it's critical that you take the time to go and inspect/look at your stock, and not just hope for the best. Unlike some nurseries that may only inspect a small selection, and understanding how much time and effort the process takes, we believe that biosecurity is too important to take any risks. It shows that not only are we getting really nice-looking trees to start with, but we have taken the time to inspect for pests and diseases.

We keep an ear to the ground all the time so that we know what and where the threats are spreading and, of course, are constantly trying to find out what the new threats are as well.

How have these changed in the last years?

There are some things that have been done throughout the industry with biosecurity in mind; for example, I have been involved with the Horticultural Trades Association for well over 10 years and have been working with Plant Healthy, which is something the industry really worked at together to make happen.

How regularly is this updated?

It is a very fluid approach – every trip we're asking questions. Just recently, we got word of a certain pest in a particular area and although the trees we were tagging were

exceptional, we started questioning and checking how the supplier was preparing and controlling the matter.

Although we were assured that all the correct measures were being taken and we had spent a day inspecting and tagging ourselves, ultimately, we decided that we couldn’t take the risk and cancelled the order.

If we were to get this particular pest in our nursery, it would be bad for both our business and the UK’s biosecurity, so although we would have been legally allowed to import and all the documents would have been clear of the pest, I am not willing to take the chance.

We spend at least two months on the continent each year and, although that’s a lot of time taken out to travel, it’s so important for the security of your stock

Do you have any words of advice for the industry?

So as far as biosecurity goes, we've got to work together. My advice would be to invest the time to go and personally inspect every plant.

We spend at least two months on the continent each year and, although that’s a lot of time taken out to travel, it's so important for the security of your stock. And it's hard work! People think, 'Oh, it's a nice little jolly going abroad', but actually you’re up early in the morning, you work all day – in the sun and in the pouring rain


On 11 February 2022, as the Majestic Trees team were setting out pines prior to potting, they came across several Pine Processionary Moth nests.

Aware of the threat presented, it reported to the APHA, and the next day, showed the inspectors what to look for before cutting out all nests to be taken for lab analysis or incinerated.

APHA inspected the pines three times and once cleared, Majestic Trees completed setting the pines out and potting them. However, Defra later decided to order destruction of the trees that nests had been found on by incineration.

The destruction order progressed to force the burning of all pines, Abies concolor and cedars that were completely free from pests, resulting in loss of around £160k in stock to Majestic Trees.

All these trees had been grown in a PPM-free place of production and were imported from a French nursery accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, issued by French Plant Health.

With APHA threatening a scorched earth policy, Majestic Trees obtained an emergency high court injunction and filed for a judicial review: ‘Is it reasonable and proportionate that DEFRA has the powers to destroy nursery stock that is a secondary host based on suspicion without any evidence and without compensation'.

Eventually proceeding in court during July 2022, Majestic lost the case on the grounds that it would need an Act of Parliament to change the law that empowers Defra to take whatever action they determine appropriate solely based on suspicion without evidence or compensation.

– and you're tagging trees, in mud up to your ankles and on your feet all day!

It’s not always glamorous, but it's the most important thing you can do for biosecurity.

Biosecurity Special | Pro Landscaper 27 FEATURE
The Majestic Trees team

With a long-standing dedication to accountability, Provender lead the way in secure plant sourcing. Working closely with industry trade bodies and as pioneers of Plant Healthy certification, our commitment ensures a seamless supply chain, safeguarding every step of your plants’ journey.

T: 01322 662315 W: Plant Healthy
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