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 report, commissioned by trade body Grown In Britain, highlights fifteen pests which it claimed could potentially reach the UK on imported Christmas trees.

Each year, the UK imports around £3million worth of cut Christmas trees from Europe and Scandinavia. Grown in Britain is urging consumers and retailers to buy Christmas trees labelled with its mark, which certifies they are UK grown, to reduce the risk of these pests making themselves at home in this country.

Six of the pests, including the pine processionary moth and Siberian fir woolly aphid, are currently absent from the UK and the majority of the others either have limited distribution here or their spread is unknown. There are currently no controls on the import of cut Christmas trees from the EU below three metres.

GIB 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 threat is even greater from larger imported Christmas trees, which are often found on display in town centres or shopping malls. The Defra data identifies a further 12 pests which could enter on large cut Christmas trees, normally categorised as those more than 3 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.

The UK's chief plant health officer, Professor Nicola Spence, commented: “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 on October 14. For details go to www.growninbritain.org.