Seabrook on ... unnecessary imports

Last month the need for our industry to work together was highlighted and already a good example has come to hand: I am reliably informed that soft tagging of trees in Germany for future delivery onto the Olympic site is already underway.

Apparently, the plan is to drip-feed these trees into east London in dribs and drabs so no major concerns are raised. If this is to be the "green" Olympics, surely we have enough home-grown stock to plant the site?

The argument can hardly be price when exchange rates have moved so far against the euro. Indeed, I hear a number of our nursery stock growers are looking to export conifers, roses and trees to Europe again now the exchange rate is in their favour. Prices apart, it makes no sense to burn fossil fuels hauling large trees any further than is absolutely necessary for our "green Games".

Sales opportunities for UK growers also arise with the ban on young Acer imports from China over the next two or three years. Here, again, we will need to be vigilant to ensure less-scrupulous suppliers across Europe do not ship in bonsai and other young maples from the Far East.

Commercial life will be very tough over the next few years: already we have seen seed companies update price lists twice in as many months as exchange rates move against the pound.

Surpluses will also have a negative effect as retailers cut back on future orders. It doesn't take Einstein to work out what will happen when the hundreds of thousands of bulb packs, seed packets, shrubs and trees are offloaded onto the market in the event of Woolworths' demise.

Much is currently made of the need to encourage new entrants to gardening. Over the years, Woolworths has probably done more to tempt first-time gardeners than anyone, so who will now take on this role?

Our trade associations have a key part to play here - and when UK buyers abroad see trees tagged for Olympic site delivery, they need to keep their trade representatives informed.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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