Nursery boss slams import restrictions

Latest import restrictions put 'future of the UK nursery stock industry in doubt', says Majestic Trees managing director.

McCurdy: hardships complaint
McCurdy: hardships complaint

Majestic Trees managing director Steve McCurdy has written to chief plant health officer Nicola Spence claiming new import restrictions are "discriminating" against UK nurseries that use plant passports and putting "the future of the UK nursery stock industry in doubt".

Government restrictions on ash, plane and sweet chestnut movement can inadvertently lead to an increase in pest and disease outbreaks as well as hurting law-abiding businesses, McCurdy, who is a member of the HTA ornamentals committee, complained.

"Import restrictions and movement bans can cause us hardship and push the landscape contractor, landscape architects, garden designers and the gardening public more and more to import stock directly from Europe."

"The regulations can have the unintended side-effect of pushing these non-regulated importers to buy directly outside of your jurisdiction because of the restricted or non availability of certain species of trees for their projects, and who may not understand or simply ignore the process that they should go through.

"From the grower perspective it seems that restrictions have been imposed with little care or understanding of the cost to the nurseryman's livelihood. Many nursery businesses have lost significant sums of money through these processes and have had new costs and administrative burdens imposed on them.

"On occasion it has appeared that Government gives the industry a token hearing then decides on a course of action with no consideration for fairness, compensation or the glaring fact that these new import bans are only being enforced against UK nursery stock growers that you monitor and who use plant passports."

McCurdy said the bans focus on large UK nurseries, "which are often the most responsible ones in the first place". He added: "We need action to save the UK now or else every pest and disease on the planet will arrive here."

He suggested a solution where nurseries and landscapers who have facilities to quarantine stock can trade with European nurseries of "high quality" but under stricter controls than before plant passporting.

McCurdy said the current Plant Quality Assurance Scheme plan is "well meaning but being voluntary will only be used by the nurseries who are not the problem but simply add red tape. Ten-plus years of plant passporting have been a failure. The old system wasn't broken, so why not bring it back?"

HW questioned Spence and Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson on the issue last month and they pledged to examine loopholes.

A Defra representative said: "Upholding biosecurity is a priority and helps protect our agricultural, timber and tourism industries, worth billions to the economy. We are constantly adapting our approach so we can stay one step ahead. That is why we are currently considering the impact internet sales of plants have on biosecurity.

"We are working closely with the EU to ensure their trading laws offer the best protection for plant health, based on risk and evidence, while protecting trade."

Ash movement No compensation offered

Defra U-turned on lifting ash movement bans just days before Majestic Trees was due to resume shipments, according to the company's managing director Steve McCurdy.

He said there was no compensation and "some nurserymen are privately starting to say never notify the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) of anything - it is not worth it, just burn it - after Defra only found out about Chalara being in the UK when it was notified by Buckingham Nurseries about inadvertently imported infected plants. He shipped one ash to test the system's "nonsensical and discriminatory" nature and FERA has not noticed, he added.

Platanus and Castanea controls, brought in on 11 November 2013, "seemed reasonable and understandable" but are "only implemented at nurseries with plant passports".

Landscapers, garden designers and the public can still import these trees without notification, he said. Again, McCurdy tested the system and no one from FERA noticed.

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