With Chelsea in full show it is worth considering what may be lurking in the soil around the many fabulous imported pot plants on show.
The UK imports £1billion worth of live plants every year, mostly from EU countries and biosecurity is minimal. Last year the UK suffered new invasions from a number of species probably imported in soil, including the Obama worm, Red palm weevil and Asian hornet.
The Chelsea Flower Show displays all that is new and exciting in the world of plants often spurring a rush to the garden centres to purchase exciting new plants. Earlier this year Buglife launched PotWatch encouraging people to pay attention to the origin of pot plants and to report any associated alien species spotted when they visited garden centres and supermarkets. Buglife has received a number of worrying reports.
One unlucky gardener was surprised when a huge 4 cm Mole cricket leapt from its burrow in the roots of a golden bamboo plant when she went to plant it out. Investigations with the Surrey retailer traced the plant back to a supplier based in Italy. Another Mole cricket was reported running around root-balled fruit canes and roses in a Doncaster supermarket.
A resident of Sidmouth, Devon found two Australian flatworms when digging in a flower bed in their garden. It was a small flower bed which has not been dug for 10 years but that contained recently acquired contained plants in their pots.
An 8mm long black non-native weevil Brachyderes lusitanicus was found in Fulham in a private garden open to the public. It was on a dwarf ornamental pine, but thankfully the species is flightless so is unlikely to spread.
A giant three inch long Egyptian grasshopper was snapped on a pot of Lobelia at a Tayside garden centre, again the recent plant delivery could be traced as far as Italy.
Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife commented; “All it takes for an invasive species to establish in the UK and start harming wildlife, crops or garden plants is for a few eggs or larvae to arrive in soil. Other than the Australian flatworms, so far the animals reported to us by the public do not represent an invasive threat, but the worrying aspect is the sheer size of the animals being reported. This really underlines the UK’s almost non-existent biosecurity. If we are to protect our biodiversity, agriculture, gardens and economy we must take steps to secure our borders. This is urgent because we don’t know what the next species to arrive will be, or how much damage it will cause.”
Buglife is calling for a ban on the importation of pot plants and the introduction of proper labelling so that gardeners know that that the plants they are purchasing are locally sourced, peat-free and neonicotinoid pesticide free.
Buglife encourages people to enjoy Chelsea, to enjoy their gardens, but to be ever vigilant for imported species. In 2015 gardener Matthew Wilson found a Wall lizard that had been imported into the show on an Olive tree from Italy.