Importing plants and seeds
There are several restrictions on what plants, seeds and other plant products can be brought back into the UK from other countries. This is important because plants and plant material can carry pests and diseases which, if introduced to other countries, can cause serious environmental and agricultural problems.
Importing from an EU country
When returning from certain countries within the European Union (EU) and other specified countries, you can bring back to the UK any plants, seeds, bulbs and similar plant products if:
- They were grown in an EU country (or a country treated as an EU country for these purposes, below);
- They are free from pests and diseases (as set out in The Plant Health (England) Order 2005);
- They are for your own personal consumption.
Commercial importers will be required to obtain a licence before they can import such products into the UK.
Which countries are within the EU?
For the purposes of these rules, the following countries are within the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus (only those areas effectively controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus), Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK (including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).
EU countries also include: Andorra, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican City. However, Gibraltar and the Canary Islands do not count as being part of the EU.
Importing from other European and Mediterranean countries
If you are travelling from certain other European and Mediterranean countries not listed above, you may bring into the UK the following:
Up to 5 retail packed packets of ‘restricted seeds’ (not all seeds are restricted; and the importation into the UK of potato seeds is prohibited). If you wish to bring more than 5 packets back to the UK you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate or a licence.
Phytosanitary certificates are issued by the national plant protection service in the country from which goods are to be exported. Licences are issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) or the Forestry Commission.
Other plants and tree seedlings with or without soil
You are allowed to bring into the UK up to 5 plants. As is the case for seeds, if you wish to bring into the UK more than 5 plants you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate or a licence.
Bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes
You are allowed to bring into the UK bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes (but not potatoes) weighing in total up to 2kg per person. If you wish to bring into the UK more than 2kgs of bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate or a licence.
Ash, citrus and vine plants
You are not allowed to bring into the UK any ash, citrus or vine plants without a phytosanitary certificate.
To which countries do these restrictions apply?
These restrictions apply to imports from the following countries: Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canary Islands, Ceuta, Cyprus (the area not effectively controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus), Egypt, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Iceland, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamrahiriya, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Melilla, Moldovia (Republic of), Morocco, Norway, part only of Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine.
Travelling from other non-EU countries
If you are travelling from a country other than one listed above, you are restricted to bringing into the UK up to 5 retail packets of ‘restricted seeds’ (not all seeds are restricted and the importation into the UK of potato seeds is prohibited).
You are not allowed to bring into the UK any bulbs, corms, tubers, rhizomes, seeds of Fraxinus (ash) and Castanea (sweet chestnut) for planting, orcitrus or vine plants without a phytosanitary certificate.
Declaring items at Customs
There are strict penalties for smuggling banned and restricted items and doing so can lead to unlimited fines and/or a prison sentence. If you are bringing any plant products into the UK from a non-EU country you must declare them when you go through Customs. If you fail to declare them you could be prosecuted.
You are not allowed to bring into the UK without a permit, any plants or parts of plants (including seeds) which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Endangered species include orchids and cacti.
If you are still unsure what you can and cannot import into the UK, you should seek clarification from DEFRA.