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How the billion pound horticulture industry can become a post-Brexit success story

James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications

James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications | Horticultural Trades Association

4 min read Partner content

Britain’s gardening industry is on the verge of a renaissance. So why are the Government restricting the trade of plants so much? James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications of the Horticultural Trades Association, explains why the Government should back the British horticulture industry and negotiate a plant health agreement with the EU to ‘Let Britain Grow’

We are all now familiar with the notion that Britons love their gardens. We know gardens, nature and green space have a positive impact on people’s mental wellbeing and physical health and that planting flowers and trees is good for wildlife and the environment. 

With 30 million of us regularly gardening, the pandemic bringing in three million new gardeners, the nation’s love affair with all things growing is showing no signs of wilting. All these extra plants and trees must come from somewhere. The industry is investing, creating new jobs and advancing horticulture as a key part of a new ‘green economy’.

The £1.5bn UK plant production sector, part of an overall £24bn, c.560,000-job UK horticulture industry, wants to grow more plants here. We are proposing solutions to government on how this could happen. However, we also rely on and benefit from trade – both imports and exports - just like all businesses and consumers do. It’s worth £400m in imports to this country. We want to export more of our iconic plants and trees – to increase from the modest £80m a year we send to the EU and globally.

However, the UK Government has introduced stringent plant health regulations since we’ve exited the European Union – adding layers of complex and lengthy pre-notification orders and inspections. We’re now one of the most regulated trading industries post-Brexit.

Our members are telling us that it is likely to cost them around £25m-£30m this year in additional inspection fees and phytosanitary certificates, extra working days to administer the new trading arrangements and more costs through the system – with price increases of 8% being felt.

This is impacting small businesses that operate on tight overheads. They’re facing an ever-higher paperwork mountain. Commercial grower members are reporting over £3,500 extra cost, on average per business, so far. And that’s just on inspection fees and costed additional working hours alone. The level of administration, documentation and inspections required has seen 78% of HTA members negatively impacted from the changes the government have made – bringing no positive gain for either the economy, the environment nor the biosecurity of Great Britain.

The net result means that consumer prices have increased and choices in product ranges have decreased, with fears that this will only get worse, but more importantly that those 3 million new gardeners will be put off, because of it.

We all support a focus on biosecurity - no one wants to see a repeat of ash dieback, nor Xylella introduced into this country, but the approach needs to be proportionate and have a clear strategy. With the current barriers to trade in place, the industry cannot grow to the level we can achieve. We believe the situation can be improved in two ways:

  1. In the short-term, the Government should conduct an urgent review on the level of inspection fees it has imposed. It should revise the broad-brush ‘high-priority’ plants list. It should work with the industry on promoting biosecurity best practice in the supply chain – which is a fundamental bedrock of the industry. There should be a ‘trusted trader’ scheme established for inspections, allowing self-inspection for those with the highest standards. There should be a more targeted approach to those who need advice, with enhanced, intelligence-led enforcement for the tiniest minority who don’t follow the rules.
  2. In the medium and longer-term, focus on a plant health agreement with the EU. We know this will be complex and will take time.. Fostering trust and recognition between plant health regimes in order to remove bureaucratic processes is key. An agreement, for example, could negate the need for inspections at point of export. We need to ensure that imports, particularly of young starter plants, are recognised as fundamental to British horticulture production. Growing our export market, not only globally, but to the EU is an opportunity we don’t want to miss out on. We want to showcase the ‘best of British’ iconic plants and trees – such as oak, honeysuckle and apple trees, but many are on the prohibited list for export to the EU.

Collaboration and co-operation are the best outcome, one that builds mutual understanding and trust, helps mitigate the rising costs and puts the UK’s horticulture industry on the road to growth. Let Britain Grow… 


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