Can you bring back plants from your holiday? 3 key rules you should know before travelling

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Plants in the UK are free from many of the pests and diseases found elsewhere in Europe and other parts of the world, though this can be compromised when new species are introduced. Statutory controls are used to control imports of plants and plant products into the country, but how do they affect you? These are the key restrictions you need to know before travelling back to the UK with plants from abroad.

Can you bring back plants from your holiday?

Plants make up around 80 percent of global food sources and are vital for medicines, building materials and textiles, among hundreds of other uses.

While bringing plants back from nearby countries may seem harmless, it can threaten existing species growing in the UK, and potentially wipe out entire populations of Britain’s native flora.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), it is possible to bring in plants and plant material for personal use, though Brexit laws and new plant health regulations make it harder for individuals to transport these items in their personal luggage.

These are the key requirements for bringing plants back from your holiday.

EU imports must be registered via the Government’s PEACH system

If you’re returning home to the UK from a country in the European Union, you can register to bring plants or plant materials back with you via the PEACH system.

This is essential for people wanting to import plants for “personal use”, such as planting in their garden or allotment.
As part of the import process, you will need:

  • A phytosanitary certificate for the material you want to import
  • Import pre-notification to the Government via the PEACH System
  • Document checks completed at an inland place of destination
  • Physical health check completed at an inland place of destination

Registering as an importer can be done using a home address, though it is possible to make an arrangement with a local garden centre or nursery.

A phytosanitary certificate (PC)

A PC is issued by the plant health authority in the country where the plant or plant material originates from.

This is done to guarantee that the plant has been officially inspected for pests and disease while meeting the legal requirements to enter the UK.

Speaking on BBC Gardeners’ Question Time, Sara Redstone, Plant Health and Quarantine Officer at Kew said: “If you are importing plant material from overseas, it should be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from that government to say that it’s safe.

“And in many cases if you’re looking at things like orchids, cycads, tree ferns, cacti, succulents, and other things, they should also have other documentation, or permits because they’re protected under the same kind of legislation that protects lions and tigers and rhinos.”

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Most plants and plant materials originating from outside of the EU must have a phytosanitary certificate for importation, and some regulated material will also need pre-notification.

There are some plant products that are considered low risk and that can be imported into Britain from the EU and beyond without a phytosanitary certificate.

According to the RHS, these include processed and packaged products (e.g. salads, sandwiches, frozen material), composite products (e.g. nut or seed butters that contain processed fruit or vegetables).

The following items do not require a certificate to be imported:

  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Coconuts
  • Citrus
  • Kumquat
  • Bitter orange
  • Persimmon
  • Durian
  • Cotton (bolls)
  • Curry leaves
  • Banana and plantain
  • Mango
  • Dates
  • Passionfruit
  • Guava

Bringing back wild plants

If you wish to bring back wild varieties, you should always check to make sure the plants are not endangered before picking.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) applies to this type of import and is regulated by the UK Government.

You can bring back CITES controlled plants which have been grown in a nursery, but you need to be able to produce documentation obtained from the supplier at the time of purchase, said the RHS.

Orchids can be imported without permits only as cut flowers or where grown in flasks, though most other species will need to be checked.

Wild plants are often protected from collection in many countries, even if they’re not covered by the convention.

Strict penalties such as unlimited fines or the possibility of imprisonment will be enforced for smuggling prohibited and restricted items from abroad.

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