Defra has published a new action plan to protect plants from pests and diseases, in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
Released on 9 January 2023, Plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain sets out a five-year vision for plant health, consisting of an action plan to secure national biosecurity, protect native species and drive economic growth.
Defra has said the strategy will create a new biosecurity regime and bio-secure plant supply chain, which will safeguard food security and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Actions detailed in the plan include:
Expanding the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s Internet Trading Unit to increase monitoring of online retailers and social media sites for the trade of high-risk plant products.
The commitment of signatories of the Plant Health Accord to increase public engagement with plant health initiatives.
Prof Dale Sanders, Former Director, The John Innes Centre, and Visiting Professor, University of York, said of the strategy: “Robust plant health underpins the sustainability of our agriculture and forestry industries and the maintenance of biodiversity.
"This wide-ranging strategy considers the threats to plant health that include trade and climate change, and proposes biosecurity-enhancing approaches that range from application of the latest high-tech genomic approaches to the enhancement of public awareness and citizen science.
"The strategy is well-conceived and timely and when implemented should secure a UK environment that is protective of plant health.”
Prof Nick Talbot FRS, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, said:
“We welcome the recommendations outlined in the new biosecurity strategy. To protect Great Britain’s food security we need effective policies in place to not only reduce the spread of plant pests and disease, but also to ensure that our crops are prepared for emerging threats.
“We are particularly excited to see the focus on research and technology in Outcome 4 of the strategy which endeavours to build our plant health capability so that GB can keep pace with changing threats and be prepared for the future.
"There have been incredible advances in genomics in the last few decades which have revolutionised our understanding of plant health. We encourage the government to embrace these advances through genomic surveillance of plant pathogens and by using genetic technologies to develop more resilient and sustainable, disease resistant crops that don’t rely on agrochemicals.”
Dr Alexey Mikaberidze, Lecturer in Crop Protection, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, said: “Plants are a key component of the Earth’s ecosystem. They provide us with oxygen, food, energy, medicine and building materials, they make our cities liveable by creating shade and opportunities for recreation, they have cultural and spiritual significance.
"According to the recent Global Plant Health Assessment conducted by about 100 scientists across the world , plant health is not in a good state worldwide and the UK is not an exception. Plant health in the UK is threatened by a range of pests and diseases, and tackling newly emerging threats is especially challenging. It is great to see that Defra’s new biosecurity strategy emphasises the importance of plant health and outlines concrete steps to reduce the rate of introduction of new pests and diseases into the UK, to manage their spread and to raise public awareness about plant health.
“Yet, to cause a damaging outbreak, a newly introduced pest or pathogen needs proliferate sufficiently to establish itself in a new location. This requires favourable environmental conditions or genetic adaptation. However, our understanding of processes responsible for pest/disease establishment remains rudimentary. A more quantitative, systems level understanding of the processes that drive pest/disease establishment is needed to tackle emerging threats to plant health in a more effective and cost-efficient manner.
"This knowledge would then inform targeted monitoring and intervention efforts. Acquiring this knowledge will require multi-disciplinary, long-term research funding beyond the existing schemes of the UKRI. Defra’s new strategy signals the Government’s serious commitment to protecting plant health, and I hope that it will be followed by crucially needed additional funding of plant health research.”
Prof Sarah Gurr, Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology, Chair in Food Security, University of Exeter, said: “This initiative is very welcome. It comes at a time of heightened public awareness about the perils of pandemic disease, following the global COVID outbreak, and our need to focus now on the plight of plants to pests and pathogens. It also highlights the need to “grow” more plant scientists and for all to realise the need for heightened global food security. It will, however, need realistic funding to become attainable rather than aspirational.”
You can read the strategy in full on the government's website: GOV.UK | Plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain.