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Thursday, 30 January 2020 13:08

Dame Helen Mirren warns UK of dangers of incurable plant disease from foreign stock

Dame Helen Mirren has helped renew efforts to keep plant disease Xylella fastidiosa out of the UK in 2020 – the UN's International Year of Plant Health - narrating a new animation (watch it at end of article) that warns of the devastation it causes, including the death of millions of olive trees in Europe.

Launched by BRIGIT, a consortium of 12 universities and research institutes led by the John Innes Centre and including the RHS and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the four-minute animation is intended to educate the public about the insect-borne disease, the symptoms to look out for, and the risks of bringing plants back from abroad. Helen Mirren has witnessed first-hand the impact of the disease on businesses and communities in Puglia, Italy and has previously urged gardeners to purchase plants sourced or grown in the UK.

plant disease warns dame helen mirrenXylella is a bacterium that infects more than 500 species of plant causing leaf scorch, wilt, die-back and plant death. There is no known cure for the disease. Xylella is not present in the UK but the public is being asked to look out for symptoms and to report them to the TreeAlert service (treealert.forestresearch.gov.uk) when the cause cannot be explained by other factors, such as frost damage, drought or other common pests and diseases.

If Xylella were found in the UK, all host plants within a 100m range would be destroyed and there would be a ban on the movement of a wider range of plants within a 5km range.

Advice to help prevent the introduction of Xylella includes:
• Source new plants carefully, where possible purchase plants grown in the UK
• Propagate your own plants from seeds or cuttings
• Check plants for signs of disease before purchase and monitor the health of new plants
• Never bring plants back with you from abroad

Dame Helen Mirren said: "Xylella is a dreadful plant disease that has devastated businesses, communities and entire landscapes. Understanding what you can do to help keep it out of the UK is an important first step in protecting our precious plants for the future."

Gerard Clover, Impact and Engagement Manager, BRIGIT said: "Government and industry have long warned of the threat to our landscape and economy from Xylella but we shouldn't be complacent. The disease continues to spread within Europe causing more than a billion euros worth of damage and gardeners must be vigilant and report changes in the health of plants in their gardens."

For more information about Xylella and BRIGIT visit: www.jic.ac.uk/brigit/