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New quarantine proposals to protect England’s trees from high risk imports

Proposals to consult industry on new quarantine arrangements for high-risk plants are among the measures set out today in the Government’s plan to protect the UK’s precious trees. 

Currently quarantine is used by some horticulture businesses as part of strong biosecurity measures against high-risk species. We want to explore how this targeted approach can be broadened out so we have better protection against harmful pests and diseases right across the industry.

Once we leave the EU we will have the chance to tighten biosecurity measures further and take swifter, more targeted action against serious threats like Xylella.

The Tree Health Resilience Strategythe first major publication to come out of the 25-Year Environment Plan, sets out a new proactive approach to tree health, with landowners, charities, the public and government working together to take actions to build resilience against pests and diseases to protect the nation’s trees – worth an estimated £175billion.

As part of this approach, a new senior cross-industry Plant Health Alliance to strengthen biosecurity practices across industry has been established. The Alliance brings together the country’s leading nurseries, retailers, tree suppliers, landscapers, foresters, the RHS and Defra to ensure an effective response to threats such as Xylella and emerald ash borer. 

Launching the strategy, Secretary of State Michael Gove said:

“The UK has a global reputation for setting the high standards for biosecurity of plants and trees but there is no room for complacency. We must seize every opportunity offered by Brexit to strengthen our biosecurity.

“In 10 years’ time I want to be able to say our oaks are thriving, that pests are being kept at bay and that our woodlands and forests are flourishing.

‘’Trees benefit our economy, society and wellbeing significantly and this strategy sets out how we will preserve them for generations to come.”

Emerald ash borer is one of the threats highlighted in the strategy (Photo: WTML)
Emerald ash borer is one of the threats highlighted in the strategy (Photo: WTML)

The Strategy also includes:  

  • Launching the ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign this summer to raise awareness of the risks of bringing back plant materials from holiday destinations
  • Consulting with industry on contingency plans for key threats to our trees and plants to ensure a swift and effective response should new pests and diseases enter the UK 
  • Strengthening protection against Xylella – maintaining continuous scrutiny of the risk situation and taking measures to maintain the strongest possible controls
  • Building knowledge and awareness of threats to trees to ensure accurate and up to date information
  • Working in partnership with the sector to drive up biosecurity standards through assurance and safe sourcing
  • Exploring strengthening of public procurement strategies to specify safe sourcing, and
  • Reviewing passenger baggage allowance for regulated plant material to assess whether it should be discontinued.   

Christine Reid, head of conservation for the Woodland Trust, said:

“The Woodland Trust welcomes this strategy. It is an important step in coordinating the UK’s efforts to combat tree pests and diseases; we rely on our beloved trees, yet they are facing too many threats.

“We need an effective biosecurity strategy, we need to plant more UK-sourced trees, and we need to develop the forestry sector. With the necessary knowledge, skills and capacity, we can ensure a healthy, resilient tree population.

“This strategy outlines the key steps required, and has brought together the sector charged with making this happen.”

Sir Harry Studholme, chair of the Forestry Commission said: 

“Publishing this strategy is a critical milestone in our ongoing work to safeguard England’s trees. It provides clear direction on how we can work collaboratively across sectors, to combat tree pests and diseases, to protect our beloved forests and woodlands for not only our current generation but for the future.”


Notes to editors:

  • For further enquiries please contact the Defra press office on 02085654748 or Out of hours, please call 03450518486.
  • The Tree Health Resilience Strategy is available here.  


  • Quarantine – We are seeking opportunities to further strengthen protection and reduce risks and will be consulting with industry to explore opportunities for quarantine for high-risk species.
  • Plant Health Alliance – a broad coalition bringing together representatives from the plant-based sectors to create a collaborative approach to plant health and biosecurity. The steering committee will be chaired by the President of the RHS, Sir Nicolas Bacon, and membership of the Alliance includes Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer (CPHO), Professor Nicola Spence.
  • Don’t Risk It – Everyone has a role to play in protecting our plants and trees. We are launching a new public campaign at the border to raise awareness of the risk of bringing back plant materials in passenger baggage. The border campaign is called 'Don't Risk It'.
  • Consulting with industry on contingency plans – To strengthen protections and ensure a swift and effective response should threats enter the UK we are announcing that we are conducting readiness reviews of priority pests e.g. Xylella, emerald ash borer. We will be consulting with the sector on top threats for further preparedness / readiness reviews and contingency plans.
  • Building knowledge and awareness of threats to trees – The plant health information portal improves access to data on plant pests and diseases.  We are updating the portal to include dedicated information on tree threats.
  • Working in partnership with the sector to drive up biosecurity standards – We are supporting the sector to improve standards and reduce the risks of importing pests and diseases through the development of initiatives like assurance schemes.
  • Exploring strengthening of public procurement strategies to specify safe sourcing – We are proactively exploring how we can demonstrate public sector leadership and best practice across government in protecting and improving biosecurity.
  • Passenger baggage – Passengers arriving to the UK from outside the EU are currently permitted to bring a specified amount of some regulated plant material with them in their personal baggage. We will be launching a review into whether to continue this allowance.

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims: i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.