Sudden issue importing plants

A complicated tale of bureaucracy gone mad

As you may know, most of our plants are very slow growing, taking 5 years from seed to sale. So unless you are a huge nursery, with lots of space, you have to buy in plants for shows. There is nobody in the UK who can produce the top quality eye candy we need, in fact there is only one company in the whole of Europe who can supply them. These are all tissue culture plants, all man made hybrids.

Starting in early March this year we heard rumours of plants being destroyed at UK borders. We did not hear this from the UK side, as stakeholders, you might expect we heard something from Apha, Defra or Border force. No, we heard from our suppliers, who suddenly did not want to send our plants. At the start of the season, when many nurseries import plants, something new has been implemented without any notification to anybody involved. In fact traders, flower show organisers, plant experts, RHS, all were surprised to hear our tale.

Some of our plants are so rare in the wild, they fall under CITES, which is a worldwide organisation to ensure trade in rare animals and plants is restricted and this rare fauna and flora protected. Everywhere in the world you need an export license to be allowed to trade in these animals/plants. The EU have implemented an extra safeguard, the only trading block to have done so, requiring an import license as well. Before Brexit, trade was free within Europe. Since Brexit, we required a plant health certificate, but apart from that nothing really changed, as Apha told us our tissue culture plants are exempt from CITES rules. Suddenly since March, we require this import license. Just to make a point here; obviously we have not rescinded all EU laws!

Again, no issue, we simply apply for the license. Fair enough that our plants are protected in the wild, fair enough that we have to deal with Brexit, seems a little silly as these are tissue culture plants. Turns out, low risk artificially propagated plants in Europe get a combined export license and plant health certificate, so just one document to make trading in these plants easier as they are no risk to the wild. Unfortunately the Apha CITES team do not understand there is a special procedure with just one document, and on top of that the outdated UK computer system cannot cope with a date issue this document caused. So we are in a situation where we require an export license to get our import license, which COMPUTER and UNTRAINED STAFF say must be dated in the past. However, the plant health certificate is always dated in the future as the date on it is the inspection date. So with this combined document to facilitate trade in tissue culture plants on one side and Apha Cites people and computer on the other, we are absolutely stuck.

We ended up having the plants inspected first (valid 14 days), I then had to tell the person at Apha CITES to simply pretend she did not receive it for one day, so it would be dated in the past. Absolutely ridiculous!! It then has to be sent out by post – and yes it did go missing!

Again, if that was all! When you arrive at the UK border (and only very specific ports are allowed – for us up north certainly the one most used for freight (Killingholme) is not authorised) there is an automatic minimum 2 hour wait to get your license stamped (!). One person’s truck took 6 hours, despite having all the right paperwork, ours took 24 hours. So now, most forwarders do not want to touch any CITES plants, which includes ours, but also all cacti, orchids, tree ferns, cyclamen, snow drops, to name a few.

We are still embroiled in all this, and are struggling to get plants. Because of this, we had no option but to pull out of Chelsea Flower Show. We are after all a commercial business, and without plants to sell, there is no justification to have the expense of being in London, having to pay people to look after the nursery and paying for Billy to be in kennels. We have our fingers crossed we might make Tatton Flower Show with plants, or we will be in serious trouble as a business.

If you have managed to get to the bottom of this tale, and want to help, please contact your local MP (we did – has not made a difference so far but the more the merrier) and make some noise about it. Really grateful to all our customers for keeping us going. If we go down we will go down fighting.

BBC Look North are planning a short feature on it next week, but will keep you posted.

Lets all enjoy #Chelsea@Scampston – see you there