This is probably the most unhelpful piece I’ve ever written for this column.
And as an opening statement, I’ve just broken Rule No 1 for wannabe journos everywhere. I feel justified, though.
The story starts on the British Expat Forum, in the humble but evergreen Clark in the Park board. Several queries have cropped up recently regarding the movement of plants within the EU, mainly concerning those who are leaving the UK and want to take Katie the Cactus, who has become part of the family.
In true investigative journo fashion, I decided to take up the challenge, and have trawled through so many gov.uk sites tonight I can tell you the girth of Ally Campbell’s Willy (he has a pet snake called Willy, allegedly).
But Willy’s girth was far easier to find than a definitive answer to the pertinent question.
Let me start with the good news.
If you want to move plants, seeds, bulbs or cut flowers for your personal use, within the EU, you can do so without the need for any plant health certificates – providing they are within your own luggage, not intended for any trading purpose, and free of pests and diseases. There are no statutory border checks for plants travelling between EU member states.
Wow! Whoopee! Result!
Well, not quite…
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has an interesting website.
Many years ago, I was driving along a road I knew very well, but the fog was so thick, it was inside the car and I couldn’t even see the steering wheel. I knew there was a sharp right somewhere ahead, so when I thought I saw a break in the hedge, I turned sharply. The experience of driving into the slurry pit of my local piggery is not one I’d care to repeat.
And this is the only way I can describe navigating the defra website. Well, not so much navigating – the navigation’s okay. Finding actual information is impossible.
‘Tis the defra site which advises that “there are no bureaucratic restrictions on the movement of plants across national borders within the EU”.
‘Tis also the defra site which elsewhere states “many plants require plant passports in order to circulate freely within the European single market”.
The defra site also advises that “a limited range of (plant) material . . . . requires a plant passport to facilitate its movement”. Nowhere on the site, however, as far as I can see, is there a list of plants which fall into this category.
The “passport” reference relates to the horticultural Plant Passport system, which is clear and well-defined, but refers exclusively to commercial plant production, and the trading of plants within the EU by commercial growers. There is no equivalent for plants grown by/belonging to an individual, who wishes to take said plants elsewhere in the EU.