UK restricts olive tree imports to halt infection

SEVERE restrictions will be placed on imports of some very popular trees and plants in an effort to halt a deadly infection.

Xylella fastidiosa has wreaked havoc on olive plantations in parts of Italy and has also been found in France and Spain. To prevent the disease spreading to the UK, imports of olive trees and lavender bushes will now be curtailed. There will also be restrictions on almond, rosemary and oleander shrubs.

Xyllela is a bacterium that has caused significant damage to olive trees in Italy over the past seven years. Spread by spittlebugs and other sap-sucking insects, the resulting disease has no treatment and it is said to have cut Italy’s olive harvest to its lowest level in 25 years.

A recently published study suggested that the infection could cause billions of euros in damages if it spreads further into olive-producing regions of Spain and Italy.

But Xylella is not just a disease of olive trees. According to experts, some 560 species in 72 plant families can be affected by the infection. For the UK, Xylella poses a threat to iconic species including oak, elm and plane trees.

To prevent the spread of the disease, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now placing heavy restrictions on some species.

Imports of Coffea (coffee plants) and Polygala myrtifolia will be banned completely, while much tougher requirements will be placed on other high-risk hosts including Olive, Almond, Oleander, Lavender and Rosemary.

In a statement, Defra said that the introduction of the tougher measures in the middle of a health pandemic had been supported by their expert advisers.

“The changes have been identified as priorities for improving the UK’s plant biosecurity, in response to known threats, thereby protecting UK business, society and the environment in the short term, as well as in the future.

“As such, we have concluded that it remains important to introduce these enhanced protections now, to deliver the benefits identified (for instance, maintaining the UK’s pest status for the trees and plants concerned) despite the challenging circumstances we are all faced with at present, as a result of Covid-19.”

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