Brexit: NI garden centres struggling to get plants from GB

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

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image captionBeth Lunney at her garden centre in County Down

For Beth Lunney the impact of Brexit and the Irish Sea border started to become clear in late November.

Along with her family she runs Saintfield Nursery Centre, a garden centre in County Down.

She had been preparing for the new sea border, signing up to the government's Trader Support Service and liaising with her suppliers in England.

Then her longstanding supplier of azaleas and rhododendrons got in touch with her.

"He said: 'Beth I don't think I'm going to be able to get this over to you. It's really about the possibility that there's soil on the pots'," she told BBC News NI.

That may seem absurd, but her supplier had correctly interpreted the new rules which apply on trade in plants between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Plants now need a plant health certificate to enter but some products are completely banned.

That includes soil, as it can carry pests and diseases.

Then Ms Lunney's rose supplier got in touch.

Challenge for NI horticultural industry

"I had an email to say that they would not be able to supply me with my roses, which I had on order since the autumn for planned deliveries throughout the season.

"The problem there is the peat reduced compost they use along with wood fibre and bark to pot up the roses," she said.

image captionAzaleas in full bloom last year

Beth sympathises with those suppliers.

"The growers in GB are in a terrible position," she said.

"They cannot take a chance and send plants to us as they may be delayed at our new border and a plant, like food, is perishable or worse the load could be taken and destroyed.

"Who will be willing to take that chance - I guess no one?"

Not getting want you want from ROI

This is not just a challenge for her business.

"It's the whole horticultural industry in Northern Ireland. There is not going to be the stock," she added.

She has written to politicians from the prime minister downwards, trying to draw attention to the issue.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is also lobbying the government, urging it to work with the EU to explore ways to ease the new rules.

"The impact of these complex and burdensome changes is far-reaching for GB and NI," says the HTA chairman James Barnes.

image copyrightPAcemaker
image captionPlants now need a plant health certificate to enter Northern Ireland

"The UK's horticulture industry stands to lose out if solutions cannot be found."

The government says that overall businesses are adjusting well to the new rules and continue to trade effectively.

'Badly let down'

For Beth and other businesses in Northern Ireland, not just in horticulture, the new reality is that it is now easier to get some supplies from the EU.

She already gets part of her stock from the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland and that may have to increase.

"A couple of nurseries down south are emailing us all the time saying they're going to have roses."

But this will not be like-for-like replacement: "You're not getting particular varieties that you maybe really want," she said.

And she said there is also an issue of principle: "We were told we would leave the EU as one country, the UK - we have been badly let down by all those that govern us.

"We should be equal to Scotland, Wales and England all of us members of the United Kingdom, but sadly now this is not the case."

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