Due to the threat of Xylella fastidiosa and the devastation it poses to the horticultural industry the HTA have created a 30-day action plan. Through initiatives that the HTA are already involved in and in the process of developing,  the HTA want to increase the awareness of Xylella and help reduce the threat of it being introduced into the United Kingdom through the promotion of best practice and education. Here is a summary of all of the points within the plan.

There is a Summary 30-day action plan at the bottom to show our next steps.

Plant Health Assurance Scheme (PHAS)

As you are aware, the HTA led the pilot development of an industry scheme to drive improvement in plant health management at nurseries. This idea came from the HTA and APHA Biosecurity Conference 2015 and a prototype scheme developed by Boningale Nurseries. The steering group which has developed the pilot, produced the PHAS Standard and audit documents, consists of HTA, NFU, APHA, Grown in Britain and grower representatives. So far the scheme we have developed looks workable for all nurseries and to be of real potential benefit in improving biosecurity practices. It is being designed to work with BOPP and other existing schemes so that we do not duplicate audit costs, membership costs and time. However, our market research of the wider grower community strongly suggests that the PHAS will require incentives to ensure wide sign up. Without incentives it will be a hard-sell to capture everyone. And as well all know, such a scheme will only be useful in the fight against pest and disease spread if it captures the whole supply chain. At Board and steering group discussions we have concluded that the PHAS needs government backing, support and incentivising to make it work. This was also the finding from a Biosecurity Incentives Day which we held at HTA with Defra economists and growers to explore what sort of incentives could make the scheme work. These included compensation for destroyed stock, free training, reduced inspections and investment incentives such as grants and tax rebates. The economists are currently working on what some of these might look like. We have collated all the findings and produced a report and proposal which has gone to Professor Nicola Spence, the Government’s Chief Plant Health Officer, to take forward to Lord Gardiner, Defra and other key stakeholders. Everyone wants the scheme to work but we need to make sure that it will work for everyone. The report and proposal was submitted earlier this month and we are waiting to hear.

Biosecurity training

We have been involved in meetings with APHA at Sand Hutton, York, about creating professionally accredited training for industry. APHA has developed a Plant Health Professional Register for inspectors and we have suggested and given input into doing one for industry. This is being trialled currently in Yorkshire. The aim is for businesses to be able to have one or more accredited Plant Health Professionals on site, who are kept fully informed of all the latest information, diagnostics and practices through their CPD and membership. This register is being developed in partnership with the Royal Society of Biology. We hope to have the first results of the pilot trial later this summer.

Import Substitution

As we all know, woody plant material is one of the highest risk pathways for pests and diseases to enter the UK. And we continue to import huge quantities of it. The AHDB Import Substitution report of 2013 showed that there is approx £300 million of hardy nursery stock imported annually, but we all know that it is not a straightforward process to transform this into home grown profit. The HTA Amenity Suppliers Group suggested that we pick one iconic plant and write a report to take to Government to show what needs to happen to grow that plant in the UK. We chose oak, the report came out at Chelsea last year, and this was the second key thing to come out of the HTA and APHA Biosecurity Conference 2015. The HTA believes that import substitution is an excellent opportunity for the Government post-Brexit, and we are arguing that it will also improve biosecurity too, lessening the risk of importing pest and disease. More on this later.

Data collection

A key element in UK biosecurity and in boosting UK production is having sight of exactly what is being imported and in what numbers. Without this data, we need to ask around the growers every time there is a new threat on the horizon, so that we can gauge the risk to the industry. If we had visibility of what is being imported, we would be able to do a risk assessment far more quickly and efficiently. It’s also tricky to identify the targets for import substitution when all we have currently are blunt volume numbers from Eurostat data. The Defra economists who came to the autumn Biosecurity Incentives meeting at the HTA are currently piloting a data collection project to do just this, and we are hoping to work in partnership to host the data collection system. This has also been something which the HTA Seeds Group has been wanting to develop because it could also give the industry much better market data. Some of you will have already been in touch with Glyn Jones at Defra, and please let me know if you want to get involved. Issues around confidentiality and coding are being addressed.

Prince of Wales Strategic Alliance

The HTA Director of Hort was the first speaker at the Highgrove Plant health and Biosecurity Conference on 1 Feb this year, which was hosted by Alan Titchmarsh and had Michael Gove and HRH Prince of Wales as closing speakers. The first aim which came out of this conference were for a joined-up cross-sector ‘Strategic Alliance’ to drive positive change across all sectors (gardens, forestry, landscapes etc), and the second aim was to support the development of the PHAS, to make it work for the UK and potentially internationally so that we can have more confidence in trading. The HTA Director of Hort has been invited to join the Strategic Alliance and the first meeting is during Chelsea week. Quarantining, stronger import bans, and the banning of semi-mature and mature rootball trees were also discussed. No conclusions have been drawn yet because there are many practical challenges to some of these proposals. However, we are engaged and involved in the discussions with key stakeholders and decision makers, so that we have the best opportunity to influence favourable outcome for the industry.

Defra Brexit Trade Team and wider government influence

This team is trying to identify all trade concerns about Brexit so that the UK avoids a cliff-edge when we do finally leave the EU, and nobody is put out of business by accident because they were not aware of their individual business. The HTA has had one-to-one meetings with this team to put forward concerns from the ornamentals sector. There are many international agreements on things like plant health, plant variety rights and biodiversity, and we are lobbying for the relevant ones to be kept and for the Government to develop ways for the UK to strengthen the plant health regulations once we leave the EU.

APPGHG Evidence Sessions – raising the profile in parliament and putting forward solutions

The HTA is a co-sponsor of the All Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group (APPGHG) which is the oldest all party group in parliament and the only one with a waiting list to join. It comprises MPs and Peers from all parties, and this year the group is doing its own Inquiry into Brexit and the opportunities/threats for ornamental horticulture. There are three evidence sessions this year and the first one was held on Tue 17 April, on the theme of Nurturing the Industry. The HTA took the lead on this hour-long session and we focussed on Import Substitution and Biosecurity. The four witnesses were HTA Director of Hort, Brian Fraser (Oakover Nurseries and chair of HTA Tree and Hedging Group), Geoff Caesar (Bordon Hill and chair of HTA Ornamentals Management Committee), and Richard McIntosh, Government Assistant Chief Plant Health Officer. APPGHG members asked questions which focussed on the need to incentivise UK production through an investment scheme (grants and rebates), and how this could work together with the Plant Health Assurance Scheme to improve biosecurity. The other evidence sessions are on innovation and skills/labour, and a report will be produced towards the end of the year which the APPGHG will take to government for a formal response and then debate in Westminster Hall. This raises the profile of Xylella and potential industry solutions to the biosecurity challenge with policy makers. The other co-sponsors of the APPGHG are the RHS, BALI, Arboriculture Association and The Landscape Show.

Consultation responses

The HTA has responded to many consultations, including the House of Lords one circulated earlier. HTA Director of Hort spoke to the policy adviser for the House of Lords Energy Committee at length about what the industry is doing on biosecurity and what government help is needed. The policy adviser attended the APPGHG session mentioned above to gain more insight.

Guidance, Statements and wider communications

The HTA has produced guidance to explain Plant Passports, we have produced E-learning for retailers, and communicated extensively on the new emergency measures. We have produced the Plant Passport guidance because Xylella host plant trading demands it, but it will also be coming in to cover all plants for planting over the next couple of years. The HTA Responsible Sourcing Statement now has more than 200 businesses signed up, and although it simply declares that each business will follow the existing Government requirements for plant sourcing, it has the great effect of raising the profile of Xylella with more businesses, and it provides a way for the industry to show that is taking its responsibilities seriously. Almost all National Plant Show exhibitors have signed up. We intend to write to non-HTA horticulture businesses to ask them what actions they are taking to mitigate against Xylella, and nudge them to sign the statement and find out more. The HTA works closely with other organisations on this, for example we attended an RHS Shows meeting to discuss the future RHS plant health policy for its shows. We are also planning to identify key influencers and groups on social media so that we can share messages and hopefully raise the profile of Xylella, and nudge businesses to sign up to the statement.

Information packs for cluster group meetings

The HTA is also producing information packs, containing scientific info, emergency regs, host list, relevant links and more, so that individual businesses can host cluster meetings with all horticultural businesses within the 5km/10km movement ban zone. This is to encourage people to work together and be aware of the risks to each other’s business, hopefully creating a ‘we’re all in this together’ way of working which benefits all of us. We will be promoting guidance and these packs at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, National Plant Show and at every opportunity we get.

Summary 30-Day Action Plan

Topic

Activity

Outcome

Plant Health Assurance Scheme

Follow-up proposal with the Government

Achieve backing, support and incentives for scheme

Raise awareness

Write 500 letters to non-HTA businesses

More businesses take action

Raise awareness

Produce 250 Xylella info packs for cluster groups

More businesses take action

Import substitution

Government lobbying

Create incentives to expand UK production

Raise awareness

Promote Plant Passporting Guidance

More businesses take action

Future of Farming consultation

Respond to Government Command Paper consultation

Ensure industry needs taken into account, strengthen UK regulatory measures

Prince of Wales Strategic Alliance

Attend first meeting

Ensure industry needs take into account and drive more businesses to take action

APPGHG Evidence report

Contribute written evidence

Raise political awareness and achieve lobbying goals

Biosecurity training

Help create industry accredited training with APHA

Improve biosecurity practice

Defra Brexit trade team

Lobby plant health international agreements to stay

Make sure UK biosecurity regulation stays the same or improves

Data collection project

Introduce growers to Defra project economists

Improve over-all UK biosecurity