Tighter plant rules could see firms struggle, says expert

Tree fern importation hit by new DEFRA inspections

By Jez Abbott Stricter enforcement of plant-import rules could ruin companies, an expert has warned. DEFRA used to be “easier-going” on tree ferns from Australia and New Zealand, said managing director Martin Gibbons of the Palm Centre in Richmond, Surrey. “People imported plants with huge amounts of soil and goodness knows what,” he said. “DEFRA can confiscate or destroy plants, which could wreck a small business if a whole container is confiscated.” From January, DEFRA stepped up its inspection regime. Ferns must have EC phytosanitary certificates and be nursery grown. Gibbons said: “This is ambiguous, what if you take a tree from the wild and put it in a nursery? How soon does it become nursery grown? We put exporter and importer authorities in touch with each other. Firms should involve their DEFRA representative.” DEFRA policy adviser Steve Ashby said several tree shipments were found to be riddled with spiders and worms in 2004. Existing rules had been flouted and needed enforcement following a transitional period to avoid disrupting trade already contracted. “That period is now over, but the rules are ambiguous,” he said. “Australasia has interpreted them as requiring ferns to be grown in nurseries.” He added that DEFRA could destroy, re-export or treat bad stock. Architectural Plants manager Christine Shaw said growing your own ferns from spores was effective and cut out import problems.

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