Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden achieves first UK industry biosecurity accreditation

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

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AT A time when the threat of pests and diseases to our plants and landscapes has never been greater, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is setting new standards by becoming the first UK public garden to hold the important new Plant Healthy assurance scheme. It paves the way for widespread improvement of biosecurity practices throughout the horticulture sector, setting standards for clearer checks and procedures around the movement of plants – and any bugs they might potentially be carrying.

Instigated by the *Plant Health Alliance, the scheme sets out to audit every facet of business operations, from plants bought-in and collected from their natural habitats to pallets and packing materials, tools, equipment and the basic hygiene of garden practices.”

After a year of painstaking work by the Horticulture team at RBGE’s flagship site in the Scottish capital, team lead Pete Brownless described it as an immensely worthwhile undertaking: “It is a major achievement for us to be the first garden to achieve accreditation. I have worked here for more than 35 years and one of my key objectives has long been the protection of the plants against the big threats of pests and disease, and climate change. This has been a very rigorous process: as scary as my A-levels!”

The achievement is seen as an important landmark for RBGE which is not only a plant science research institute, a centre of horticultural excellence and a public visitor attraction. It is also part of the International Plant Sentinel Network, the international group of botanic gardens working to act as warning beacons as new pest and disease threats are spotted in Britain and around the world.

At the heart of the Plant Healthy scheme is the Plant Health Management Standard, setting out key quality checks with which businesses and organisations must now comply. 

Director of Horticulture at RBGE, Raoul Curtis-Machin, was a key player in creating the scheme five years ago, prior to joining the Garden. He explained: “With disease threats such as Xylella fastidiosa, and pests including the emerald ash borer beetle having profound impact on our landscapes, it is critical everyone plays their part.”

“Any biosecurity chain is only as good as each individual link, and this scheme includes all the links in the horticulture supply chain: plant growers, retailers, landscapers, arborists and public gardens. It is great that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has achieved this accreditation and it is excellent to see the scheme gaining traction across the industry.”

The UK Government recognises the Plant Healthy accreditation and is piloting a procurement scheme which specifies that Government tree buying must be done through accredited nurseries. King Charles III, the former Prince of Wales, took a personal interest in the initiative, convening a Highgrove conference in 2018. This led to the creation of the cross-industry Plant Health Alliance which now administers the Plant Healthy scheme.

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