The Brexit transition period ends on 1 January 2021, bringing into effect new controls for goods entering the EU. Here, essentialARB speaks to three tree nurseries about the challenges they face as the deadline looms.

TIME is running out for businesses that deal with Europe. That’s the key message of an advert from the Cabinet Office that’s been shown across television and online in recent months. There will be new rules in place from 1 January 2021, it says, and there are definite actions that need to be taken – no matter what.

Despite the sense of urgency conveyed, with workers marching around purposefully, looking confident, it is vague, with no actual information apart from a web address (

This is an issue that is particularly relevant to plant nurseries, which are facing uncertainty with no definitive answers as to how they should operate after the looming deadline, while being expected to adhere to strict EU import controls.

“Brexit has huge implications for the whole of the industry due to its diverse nature ranging from hardy nursery stock to edibles,” Warren Holmes Chatfield, trees production director for Cambridgeshire nursery Barcham Trees, told essentialARB.

“From Barcham’s point of view, the process has been very protracted and complex, especially from the paperwork needed due to the two elements of Plant Health and HM customs. There has not been any clarity in the process and no clear guidelines of what you need to apply for in relation to the various systems and registrations you have to have ranging from the Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates (PEACH) online system, to EORI numbers and Simplified Procedures applications, just to name a few which are all a mixture of requirements by the nursery to communicate with DEFRA (APHA) and HM Customs. With such confusion, it begs the question why we did not start the whole process sooner!”

Warren recently attended a webinar with DEFRA, where the practicalities of how the new system would work were discussed. However, it soon became apparent that there were many issues. He explained: “The most unnerving for us is the whole idea of using BCRs, into which consignments of any type of plant material can end up if they feel there is a need for inspection of that load.”

READ MORE: Timber Trade Federation issues new Brexit Guide to help firms prepare for deadline​

Using the example of a container full of semi-mature trees, Warren explained that the question was proposed to the inspector in the webinar that if this were to be unloaded for inspection, how would this practically happen, bearing in mind it was loaded with specialist equipment and may have taken four hours to load?

“The response was, ‘Well, we need to inspect it and it is up to you to present the load in a way it can be inspected.’ Obviously, whoever came up with this answer has never seen a load of trees or any idea of what is involved. So, the chance to have feedback which I hope they take on after those sessions, would be a great move forward. It just seems a little late in the day!”

With regard to preparation ahead of the deadline, there has been little in the way of clear information. Keith Sacre, Barcham Trees’ arboriculture and urban forestry director, explained: “The biggest problem in all of this is the logistics of what is going to be necessary. Then, the Plant Health regulations. While I believe the intention is to keep on with the EU regulations well into the next season, ultimately we don’t know what the Plant Health regulations are going to look like and biosecurity is of paramount interest to everybody – our customers, ourselves, our end users, the land owners.

“Barcham is a very well organised business, we have to be because of the way we produce trees. We take about 20–25,000 from our own fields each year for containerisation. The remainder we are bringing in from suppliers across Europe, so they have to be scheduled very tightly because they have all got a limited duration where they can sit outside of the containers.

“If there had been a clear direction, Barcham would have had all the protocols in place. The reality is, we’ve had no protocols to put in place, or nothing definitive that we can actually organise and say, ‘That’s done, we’re ready.’”

Warren added: “The time and cost to the business has been significant as we have not had a clear roadmap of what to do and when, trying to navigate through a world of acronyms and forms.

“There does not seem to be a joined-up approach to the oncoming deadline of 1 January, and it feels like we have been holding out for a deal which has not quite materialised. Now we are left trying to make sense of it all.”

Forestry Journal: L–R: Keith Sacre, arboriculture and urban forestry director, Barcham Trees; Adam Dunnett, amenity sales director, Hillier Trees; Jonathan Whittemore, head of production and procurement, Johnsons of Whixley.L–R: Keith Sacre, arboriculture and urban forestry director, Barcham Trees; Adam Dunnett, amenity sales director, Hillier Trees; Jonathan Whittemore, head of production and procurement, Johnsons of Whixley.


Of particular concern to some nurseries is the Irish Sea border. After 1 January, Northern Ireland will remain in the EU single market for goods, while the rest of the UK exits, meaning new checks and controls will come into place on some goods as they enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

essentialARB spoke to Jonathan Whittemore, head of production and procurement at Johnsons of Whixley, and Adam Dunnett, amenity sales director at Hillier Trees, about this issue.


JW: We will have to have stock inspected and a phytosanitary certificate issued prior to despatch, so this will add additional cost and time into the despatch process. We are often asked for stock by our clients that will have to be procured in the EU, in terms of plant health inspections this could mean an inspection in the EU prior to collection, an inspection on arrival in Great Britain, an inspection prior to despatch from Great Britain and an inspection on arrival in Northern Ireland – four inspections within a week.

AD: This process will require a little more pre-planning to ensure the trees are inspected before they are despatched, giving sufficient time for a phytosanitary certificate to be issued. We have always found our local APHA plant health inspector to be responsive to requests for inspections and our customers in Northern Ireland are fully aware of the situation and have to plan in advance anyway to organise their planting. Any additional processes are not ideal, but quite manageable.


JW: Much time has been spent trying to understand what we will need to do – conversations with DEFRA, APHA, the HTA, and customs agents in the UK and the EU. The process is complex. But preparations for EU exit have always been presented to UK businesses as ‘Just get an EORI number and a customs agent and everything will be fine’. That is far from the reality of the situation.

AD: We have been in close contact with all our customers in Northern Ireland. For those with reserved orders, we have in place a provisional delivery plan, subject to the normal trading flexibility you need around weather, site conditions and potential COVID-19-related delays. We have had several meetings with our local APHA plant health inspector to ensure we have everything in place to comply with the new regulations and that the inspector is aware of our likely requirements of them.


JW: Really difficult to say. Until we get into next year, we won’t know for sure, but we are preparing for the worst-case scenario and hoping things are better. There has to be some disruption but who knows how damaging that will be. Supply chains will definitely be slowed down and imported plants more expensive.

AD: To work within the new phytosanitary regulations appears reasonably straightforward and we wouldn’t envisage this causing any delay, as long as all parties are organised. How any wider Brexit agreements might impact movements of trees to Northern Ireland is impossible to know. However, some disruption seems probable in the first few weeks of the new agreements, and we are planning on this basis.


JW: Plant health and biosecurity are critically important to UK horticulture, but we are finding it difficult to see the value that the process of inspections will bring to us. The majority of the additional cost in what we are required to do will come from the phytosanitary certificates and inspections around them. We need proportionate systems, clarity of operation, administrative burden and costs kept to a minimum.

AD: Some additional controls to ensure the island of Ireland remains as free as possible from some of the more serious pests and diseases – the ‘single epidemiological unit’ as it is referred to – are welcomed. Extra controls will help ensure that only those nurseries with high biosecurity practices will have the confidence to supply customers in Northern Ireland; at Hillier we can understand the requirement for such regulations. The potential cost of a serious pest or disease arriving in an area such as Northern Ireland is much greater than the relatively small cost of a plant inspection.


JW: Like all of us, they are struggling to get their heads around what they will be required to do and, to be fair, I think that is because it is not very clear what they will have to do. We are doing our best to help where we can, but we are limited in how we can help. The key thing is to talk to as many people from DEFRA, APHA and other relevant organisations as possible in order to get a feel for what is required – this will allow the pieces of the puzzle to begin to come together, but I fear there will be questions left unanswered until the end of the year.

AD: Customers we have spoken to are accepting of the changes and understand the reasoning. There is a little concern around the unknown factors surrounding Brexit and the potential for some disruption early in the new year. Most customers seem to be pulling forward orders currently booked for a new year delivery to pre-1 January.


JW: I am sure that in Brexit the industry will find opportunities but at the moment they are not evident, and rather than being able to focus on finding them, we seem to be scrabbling to understand just what we need to do to keep trading.

We have not been given sufficient time to prepare properly – I feel compromised and like we have had little support in navigating our way through the unknown. The uncertainty of our predicament is, at times, crippling.

AD: Just to get complete clarification around a Brexit deal/no deal ASAP!

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