RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Yorkshire has become the first public garden in England to be certified as Plant Healthy, in recognition of its work to stop the spread of plant disease and invasive species and promote good plant health. It is the latest move by the RHS as it works towards being biosecurity neutral by 2025 and comes at a time when the threat to gardens has never been greater.

Protecting plant health has a wide range of benefits to the environment, biodiversity, the economy and food security but threats are increasing as climate change and globalisation facilitate the spread of plant problems1. The RHS is also encouraging others to become certified as Plant Healthy to help safeguard our cultivated and natural landscapes, which provide multiple benefits to the environment and human health.

As part of the certification process, existing records, processes and infrastructure at RHS Garden Harlow Carr were reviewed by auditors, highlighting good practice and identifying areas that could be improved. RHS staff were congratulated on their commitment to plant biosecurity, comprehensive written procedures, plant health training and extensive contingency planning for outbreak scenarios. The plant health team have worked to ensure the risk assessment procedures for sites, operations and suppliers are all-encompassing and risks are appropriately mitigated. The team will continue to focus on communicating the importance of biosecurity measures to the public as part of their commitment to outreach.

Actions taken at RHS Garden Harlow Carr will help safeguard against the spread of global diseases such as Xylella fastidiosa, which has not yet reached the UK but has significantly impacted the horticultural industry and crops including olives and citrus in parts of mainland Europe, and non-native invasive species like the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) which could severely damage crops, fruit trees and lawns should it reach the UK.

The RHS will now move to secure Plant Healthy certification for its remaining four gardens by 2025, as laid out in the RHS Sustainability Strategy, published last autumn.

Harlow Carr’s Plant Healthy certification comes as the UK government today unveils its new Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain. The strategy aims to bring Government, industry and the public together to reduce and manage plant health risks and facilitate safer trade through improved intelligence, monitoring and domestic production, including a biosecure supply chain and greater use of citizen science.

Sara Redstone, RHS Biosecurity Lead, said: “Actions to improve plant biosecurity and achieve Plant Healthy certification affirm our high standards when it comes to plant health and reassures gardeners of our commitment to protect against the introduction and spread of preventable plant problems. As the first public garden to be certified in England, we hope it will also strengthen the approach to biosecurity across the UK, helping to protect plants in the horticultural supply chain, in cultivation and in the wild.”

Alistair Yeomans, Scheme Manager for the Plant Healthy Certification Scheme, said: “We’re delighted to recognise the RHS’ huge efforts to ensure RHS Garden Harlow Carr is Plant Healthy. The work has involved experimentation with new approaches and the support of teams from across the organisation. We hope their work acts as a blueprint to assist others in the horticultural industry.”

At home there are specific actions gardeners can take to promote good plant health on their plots, including:

  • Source plants from reputable UK nurseries, garden centres and suppliers. Some online sellers appear to be UK-based but are actually overseas and may send plant materials without the necessary legal documents and inspections.
  • When on holiday don’t risk the spread of plant problems by bringing plants back from abroad.
  • Minimise plant stress by growing them in the right conditions and ensuring they are receiving the care they need. Plants are most vulnerable to problems when they are stressed.
  • Keep new plants separately for a few weeks, such as in a corner of the garden or cold-frame, or in another room for houseplants. Watch for signs of disease or non-native species before planting out or adding to your collection, and take action if necessary. Buying from reputable suppliers with good plant health practices and hygiene will greatly reduce this risk.
  • Wipe tools clean between use.

The Plant Healthy Certification Scheme was created in 2019 by the Plant Health Alliance, a UK organisation chaired by Sir Nicholas Bacon, that encompasses government agencies, trade bodies and environmental charities. The Alliance’s purpose is to protect our flora from destructive plant pests and diseases. Members of the Alliance include the RHS, Defra, the Horticultural Trades Association, Grown in Britain, the National Trust and several others. The organisations worked together to develop a Plant Health Management Standard, against which applicants to the Scheme are assessed to achieve and maintain their certification. It covers areas including legal compliance, risk assessment and mitigation, record keeping, good housekeeping practices, training and public awareness, and aims to continually improve biosecurity practices across the whole horticultural supply chain. 

For more information on plant biosecurity and the Plant Healthy certification please visit: www.planthealthy.org.uk

The RHS’s Science team are conducting research into a number of plant health issues in gardens including honey fungus and box tree caterpillars. For more information about the RHS work in these areas visit: www.rhs.org.uk/science/plant-health-in-gardens

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