(c) Paul Hetherington

PotWatch, is a campaign to highlight the role the importation of pot plants plays in establishing invasive species in the UK. 

In November 2016 an invasive flatworm from Brazil, already a threat to agriculture across France, the Obama flatworm (Obama nungara), was found in a pot plant at a garden centre in Oxfordshire.

The Obama flatworm, which grows up to 7cm long, is a predator of earthworms and land snails, thereby endangering soil fertility and wildlife.  A 4.5 cm worm was spotted in a potted Heuchera, imported from the Netherlands. The Obama flatworm’s name comes from the Brazilian Tupi language words for leaf (oba) and animal (ma).

In some areas invasive flatworms have reduced earthworm populations by 20%. Damage from invasive species such as flatworms is calculated to cost the UK £1.8 billion per annum.

Over £1 billion pounds of live plants are imported into the UK every year, for the vast majority there are no biosecurity measures to exclude or check for eggs or hibernating animals in the soil. Indeed, the UK has a £1 billion trade deficit for pot plants.

In the wake of the importation of Ash die-back the Government undertook a review of phyto-sanitary health in relation to the importation of live plants; however the review did not consider the wider biosecurity issue associated with importing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of soil into the UK every year.  Plant health is an easier problem to address than biosecurity.

Consumers should buy British to avoid aiding and abetting biosecurity breaches.  Peat use and neonicotinoid contamination are other environmental issues associated with the pot plant industry. As this campaign develops, we will be looking more closely into these other aspects.

Have you found an unusual and perhaps unwanted guest in a recent garden centre purchase?  If so, which invasive species have you encountered?

Did the product labelling offer any information as to how the species might have appeared in your product?  Or any information on where your product originated from?

We would also like you to keep a look out for flatworms in your garden – visit our survey to find out more.

Obama nungara (c) Richard Lewington

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