A new report has warned that Christmas trees imported from mainland Europe could be providing a pathway for new pests and diseases to enter the UK.

Using data gathered and analysed by the DEFRA plant health risk and horizon scanning team, the Grown in Britain report highlights 15 pests which it says could potentially reach the UK on imported Christmas trees.

Each year, the UK imports around £3-million-worth of cut Christmas trees from Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Grown in Britain is now urging consumers and retailers to buy Christmas trees labelled with its mark, which certifies they are UK grown. 

Six of the pests, including the pine processionary moth and Siberian fir woolly aphid, are currently absent from the UK and the majority of others either have limited distribution here or their spread is unknown.  

Grown in Britain’s chief executive Dougal Driver said: “Christmas trees provide ideal conditions for pests to hitch a ride. The trees are usually netted, which means the branches don’t dry out, and pests can remain hidden in the tightly bound branches. 
“With climate change, the risks are also rising, as pests which are native to warmer parts of southern Europe are increasingly likely to be able to survive in northern Europe and the UK.” 

The DEFRA data identifies a further 12 pests which could enter on large cut Christmas trees, normally categorised as those more than three metres in height. This takes the total number of pests which could enter the UK on Christmas trees to 27, 14 of which are currently absent from this country.

Professor Nicola Spence, DEFRA’s chief plant health officer, said: “I welcome Grown in Britain’s initiative to encourage people to source their Christmas trees responsibly and practise strong biosecurity.

“Protecting our country from pests and diseases is vital to safeguard our environment, economy and health. Our international surveillance work helps us spot new risks and take action to stop any diseases before they arrive.” 

Grown in Britain and DEFRA’s plant health risk and horizon scanning team are holding a joint briefing event on Christmas trees and biosecurity in London on 14 October. For details and to read the full report go to www.growninbritain.org.