Key horticulture issues figure at parliamentary reception

Annual parliamentary event sees industry air concerns from parks to hosepipe bans and skills.

Lord de Mauley and Baroness Fookes - image: HW
Lord de Mauley and Baroness Fookes - image: HW

Horticulture Week's Make Parks a Priority campaign was highlighted at a House of Commons reception this week where a gathering of parliamentarians and horticulture industry figures debated key issues.

Baroness Fookes, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group, told a reception on Monday (19 November): "I hope Horticulture Week's Make Parks a Priority campaign will remain a priority because there are worrying aspects around local government cut backs and we will want to keep our eyes on this."

The campaign, launched this summer, calls for a new select committee inquiry into the funding crisis facing urban parks.

More than 130 guests including politicians from both Houses of Parliament met with industry leaders at the event, which covered issues of concern across all sectors of horticulture.

Speakers included TV's Alan Titchmarsh, Defra's Lord de Mauley and event sponsor Scotts Miracle-Gro managing director Martin Breddy.

Fookes said horticulture "lacks big battalions" because thousands of people are scattered across so many sectors while research funding tends to be skewed towards agriculture. But the Olympic Park showed "so many British people on that huge endeavour".

Lord de Mauley spoke of the "extremely challenging year", with hosepipe bans followed by torrential downpours.

"We are reviewing impacts of the 2010-12 droughts and potential consequences of it continuing for a third year in terms of estimated costs and alternative ways of dealing with the situation," he said. "We are working with the HTA on reforming the extraction regime."

In a wide-ranging speech, he spoke of the growing crisis with peat, how the cool summer led to a reduction in extraction and the need to look at new forms of growing media. He also raised concern about the import-export imbalance - £1bn against £60m of exports.

Breddy said: "I stood here last year and offered optimistic thoughts about the resilience of gardening. But I have had a few doubts since then. We are facing really tough times and the harsh economy is here to stay."

He called for more Government help for the industry, citing the ongoing peat problem. "The recent task force has progressed well and there's been valuable dialogue," he added. "But Government must support strict rules so players in the industry know what's happening."

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh praised the all-party group. "What you've done shows knowledge and understanding," he said at the group's reception. "It is good there are people in both houses who understand the value and importance in the way we make things grow."

He added: "Those in horticulture at whatever level know what an uphill struggle it can be to get the message across - people think that because they garden at the weekend, like they wash their car or rearrange their sock drawer, that gardening involves not much more than tidying up.

"Law and order, education and health - all of them are affected for the better by knowing how to grow things. But social media and technology have distanced children from basic growing skills and we need to get horticulture into secondary schools as a career option."

Defra opinion

"Ash dieback is a real worry. I visited Wayland Wood in Norfolk, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is seriously affected by the Chalara fungus. But I was shown young ash untouched by the fungus around them. This potential resistance offers a germ of hope and it is something we must explore."

Lord de Mauley, Defra undersecretary

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