It is important to recognise the risks posed by plant imports to crops and other plants in the UK, and to international conservation efforts. So, to safeguard plant health in Britain, there are statutory controls on importing plants and plant products into this country.
Moving plants within the EU
Within the European Union (EU) there are no border checks for plants and plant products travelling between member states and, it is possible, to import and export plants freely with very few exceptions.
- If you intend, however, to move large quantities check with the Plant Health and Seed Inspectorate (PHSI) – offices are usually based at DEFRA Regional centres. A limited range of material, which hosts the most serious 'quarantine' pests and diseases such as potatoes, do require official documentation
- If in doubt, whatever the quantity, it is always best to check with the relevant authorities – both in the UK and the country of origin or destination of the plant material. The PHSI are also able to advise on the requirements for exporting plants to other countries
The movement of most plant material into or out of the European Union requires a Phytosanitary Certificate which specifies that plants are pest- and disease-free and free of soil. These are issued by the plant protection service of the exporting country. For more detailed information contact the PHSI.
Bring plants from outside the EU
Small quantities of plant materials, which normally require Phytosanitary Certificates on import, may be brought into the UK from outside the EU provided they are:
- Not covered by CITES (see below)
- In personal baggage
- Intended for household use and not business use
- Free from signs of pest and disease
For non-EU European countries and those bordering the Mediterranean the regulations allow five plants, up to 2kg (4lb) of bulbs and five retail packets of seed. Cuttings are considered to be the same as plants. Potatoes, citrus and grape vines may not, however, be brought in.
From the rest of the world, you are allowed five retail packets of seed. No plants, cuttings or bulbs may be brought back without a Phytosanitary Certificate. Details are available from PHSI.
If you wish to bring back wild plants, you will need to be sure that the plants are not endangered. Here the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) applies. These regulations are detailed and offer different levels of protection to species. Details are available from the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service.
You can bring back CITES controlled plants which have been grown on a nursery, but you need to be able to produce documentation obtained from the supplier at the time of purchase. Orchids can be imported without permits only as cut flowers or where grown in flasks.
Wild plants, even if not covered by CITES, are often protected from collection in many countries. Increasingly the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which recognises a country's property rights over its native plants, will also come into force.
There are strict penalties for smuggling prohibited and restricted items. This can include unlimited fines, the possibility of imprisonment, or both.