Thu, 18 July 2024

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A future UK Government can't deliver on the environment without horticulture

Fran Barnes, Chief Executive

Fran Barnes, Chief Executive | Horticultural Trades Association

4 min read Partner content

At the last General Election, there were around 32 million voters.  That’s 32 million people who were being wooed by political parties of all colours for their vote.  But consider this: every year, there are around the same number of gardeners in the UK 30 million people, to be accurate – with many more who benefit from the UK’s cultivated green spaces.

Horticulture is not a niche interest but a widespread and deep-rooted passion that is critical for our health, our environment, and our wellbeing. As every nursery, garden centre, landscaper, or gardening manufacturer will know, the industry is an important part of the UK economy. 

Not many other sectors can demonstrate such public support – and engagement – whilst delivering so many public and economic goods. 

Since the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) was founded in 1899, there have been 53 governments, some successive ones of the same party, some coalitions, some seeing wholesale changes.   In all that time, we have never seen a government deliver a considered and thought-through strategy for horticulture.  From July 5th, it will be clear who will form a government for the next five years.  Whatever the colour of the government’s politics, environmental horticulture needs their support, and, critically, a future government can’t deliver on the environment without our sector. 

Perhaps in decades gone by, when there were more green spaces and less focus on the environment, a lack of an environmental horticulture strategy may have been excusable. But at a time when green spaces are under pressure, when net zero is a real ambition and when climate change is already with us, it is time for a new government to deliver a strategy for environmental horticulture as part of a solution to these problems felt keenly in 2024 – and will still be a challenge for most of our lifetimes. 

Our cultivated green spaces are invaluable.  Environmental horticulture is so important it should be acknowledged throughout government as a driver for economic growth, health and wellbeing, and environmental delivery.  Establishing an Office for Green Spaces will help ensure that future policies across government take into consideration the impact they could have on our sector and the contribution we can make to helping them achieve goals, whether this is about urban greening, flood management, social prescribing, economic growth or biodiversity. 

There are many hand brakes in our sector which need to be lifted.  Trade is essential – and negotiating a Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement with the EU should be a priority, along with establishing a world-class plant health regime and recognising the value of green jobs as essential for the future of our environment and our economy. And while we’re at it, let’s have a good look at our planning regulations, which can act as barriers to our industry's ability to deliver green growth.

Policies for water resilience, a sustainable transition to peat-free, proportionate and supportive regulation, and public procurement reforms for SMEs are all necessary to ensure the sustainability of our green spaces and horticultural operations and help businesses transition to net zero while remaining competitive.

Environmental horticulture is not just a sector; it's a pathway to a greener, healthier, and more prosperous UK. By harnessing the power of research and development and implementing tailored grant support schemes, we can drive productivity, sustainability, and environmental benefits. The HTA is committed to working with the government to ensure these priorities are met, enabling our sector to thrive and contribute significantly to the UK's future.

I’d like to think that our descendants in 125 years will look back at this time as the year the UK government got horticulture right—a turning point for a greener, growing future.


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