New GB-wide strategy seeks to protect crops and plants from disease

The government's new Great Britain-wide strategy sets out five-year vision for improving plant health and biosecurity
The government's new Great Britain-wide strategy sets out five-year vision for improving plant health and biosecurity

A new five year strategy to protect crops and plants from pests and diseases has been published as the government looks to bolster domestic food production.

The GB-wide plant biosecurity strategy, launched by Defra on Monday (9 January), aims to position the UK as a global leader in plant and crop biosecurity.

It sets out a vision to create a new biosecurity regime and bio-secure plant supply chain, which the government says will safeguard food security and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Actions include expanding the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) Internet Trading Unit to step up monitoring of online retailers and social media sites for the trade of high-risk plant products, in order to stop devastating pests and diseases.

Additionally, the strategy sets out how more than 30 signatories, including Defra and the NFU, will deliver a programme of behavioural change across society through the Public Engagement in Plant Health Accord.

The collective commitment aims to kickstart a national conversation around biosecurity and promote the actions that the public can take to protect tree and plant health.

The strategy's launch follows updated figures which show that plants provide an annual value of £15.7 billion to the UK.

Lord Benyon, Defra's minister for biosecurity, said the 'landmark' strategy detailed how the government would help protect Britain’s plants.

"In light of climate change, tackling these varied and mounting risks will be critical to maintaining our food security, as well as facilitating safe trade amidst a challenging economic backdrop."

The strategy also sets out how enhancements to the UK Plant Health Risk Register, which currently lists 1,200 pests and diseases, will improve understanding of complex and cumulative risks to plant health.

As part of this, an array of new plant health IT systems have been installed to bolster the country's outbreak preparedness and emergency response.

And the strategy also commits to work with the UK Plant Health Alliance to develop a new five-year roadmap for the Plant Healthy certification scheme.

The scheme provides biosecurity certification to nurseries, businesses and charities operating in the horticultural sector.

Responding to the strategy's launch, Nicola Spence, the UK's chief plant health officer, warned that food security was at risk due to the threat of plant pests and diseases.

"As the global trade in plants and plant products continues to grow, our precious ecosystems, native species and biosecurity are at risk," she said.

"The resultant threats posed to our treescapes, food security and the global economy are all too real."