Helen Mirren voices new plant health animation

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 that warns of the devastation it causes, including the death of millions of olive trees in Europe.

Launched today 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.

Xylella 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 when the cause cannot be explained by other factors, such as frost damage, drought or other common pests and diseases.

Symptoms of the disease show within a few years so well-established plants are less likely to be affected. Xylella is also less likely to be the cause if the plant was sourced or grown in the UK.

There are outbreaks of Xylella fastidiosa in southern Italy, France (Corsica and southern France), Spain (Balearic islands and the mainland) and in 2019 the disease reached Portugal. 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.

There is an EU-wide ban on the movement of host plants of Xylella from outbreak areas unless very strict criteria are met and the highest risk plants, which include olive and lavender, can only be traded within the EU once tested.

The UK has funded the 28-month BRIGIT project to generate the evidence and understanding needed to reduce the risk of Xylella being introduced, to respond to any interceptions and outbreaks, and to mitigate the impact of the disease were it to become established.

Advice to help prevent the introduction of Xylella includes:

  1. Source new plants carefully, where possible purchase plants grown in the UK
  2. Propagate your own plants from seeds or cuttings
  3. Check plants for signs of disease before purchase and monitor the health of new plants
  4. 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.”

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