stop the spread

The 'Stop The Spread' garden at the Chelsea Flower Show

DEFRA has backed a new taskforce report recommending the appointment of a plant health officer in the wake of last year’s tree ash dieback outbreak.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson, speaking during a visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week, urged horticulturalists to lend their support to the battle to protect British plants and trees from foreign diseases.

An eye-catching garden display titled “Stop The Spread” – co-funded by DEFRA and the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), and created by award-winning garden designer Jo Thompson – showcased at this year’s show displayed lifeless trees to demonstrate the potential impact of unchecked diseases on plant life.

The garden’s appearance coincides with the publication of a new independent taskforce, set up by Paterson, and a subsequent report which looks into how the UK government can strengthen tree health and plant biosecurity.

“This garden shows us what the worst case scenario could be if diseases were left to take hold of our trees,” said Paterson at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

He added: “Whether you’re a company importing plants on a commercial basis or someone bringing back a cutting from abroad, a pest can unwillingly travel back home and have a potentially devastating effect.”

The report, which has been put together by a taskforce of scientists chaired by Professor Chris Gilligan of the University of Cambridge, makes several recommendations, including the development of a UK plant health risk register; a greater focus on securing students with knowledge of plant science within the fresh produce sector; and an improvement of EU regulations relating to plant biosecurity.

Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at DEFRA, said that the taskforce is “underpinned by the best science” and he is confident the government will now look to reduce the outbreak of plant diseases.

Furthermore, Paterson confirmed that work has already begun in developing a plant health risk register and implementing procedures to predict, monitor, and control pests and diseases. DEFRA will consider and respond to the rest of the taskforce report’s recommendations by the end of the summer.