Plant legislation

Fuchsia 'Mrs Grant'

There are many legal issues associated with plants and plant collections, which are relevant to both Collection Holders and the keen plantsperson.

This page covers: Plant collection from the wild, CITES and the Nagoya protocol, invasive species legislation, Plant Breeder's Rights, rules on importing plants and seeds from outside the EU, and Plant Passports for moving plants within the UK and EU.

Plant collection

Protected species - CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)  is an international agreement that came into force in 1975. The import, export and use for commercial gain of certain species requires a CITES permit. For plants, the list includes mainly orchid, cacti, succulents, medicinal plants and cycads. See the links below:

Guidance on CITES import & exports

List of species covered by CITES

Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) - the Nagoya Protocol

The Nagoya Protocol is an agreement that is part of the Conventional on Biological Diversity (CBD), which deals globally with the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources. Since 12 October 2014, this legally binding international agreement covers wild collecting of plants and associated traditional knowledge from more than 100 signatory countries. 

It is your responsibility to ensure that you have undertaken the necessary steps to legally obtain and utilise plant material. You will need to obtain prior informed consent from the owner of those resources, on mutually agreed terms. For example, should a plant-hunting trip be organised to country X to collect seed of species Y, it will be necessary to find out what the legal requirements with regard to plant collecting and ABS are in that country.

The Nagoya Protocol - guidance for National Collection Holders (2015)

Convention on Biological Diversity - CBD (1992)

Plant collecting in the UK

In Britain, it is illegal to "uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier”. Harvesting other parts such as leaves, flowers or seed is allowed. However, this does not apply to land designated a SSSI or National Nature Reserve, where it is illegal to pick any part of a plant. In addition, local bylaws often apply to nature reserves or National Trust land which forbids plant collection.

There are also certain species for which wild collection is forbidden - largely orchids, ferns and other rare taxa. See the list here.

Invasive species

There are some species which are illegal to import, grow or sell in the UK because of the threat of them getting out into the wild and becoming invasive. Full guidance on the species covered (which include some well known garden plants) is provided by the RHS. 

Plant Breeders Rights

Plant Breeders’ Rights or Plant Variety Rights (PBR - usually written as PBR) are granted to new cultivars in order to give the breeder exclusive control over the propagating material from that plant for a certain number of years. If you have cultivars with PBRs you should be aware of restrictions on the propagation and sale of these plants. For more information on how PBRs are assessed and on the cultivars that have a PBR, see the NIAB website. You also may want to apply for PBR on cultivars that you have bred. More information can be found on the relevant DEFRA page. There is also useful information in this article from our Journal.

Plant passports and cross border import/export

On the 14th December 2019 new EU Regulations came into force which both update and change the way plant movements can occur (commonly known as Smarter Rules for Safer Food (SRSF)). 

Importing plants and plant material from outside the EU

Any plants for planting brought in from outside the EU will require a customs check. They will need a phytosanitary certificate, issued by the origin country – full guidance available here. Also some high risk genera will require the exporting country to provide a risk assessment on the genus before allowing the import to the EU so you will need to check the provisional list of genera requiring a risk assessment (in annex 1).

Plants and plant products (other than plants for planting) up to 2 kg in weight will be allowed in passenger luggage from outside the EU but this will also require a phytosanitary certificate. Failure to declare will result in the goods being confiscated.

Plant Passports for movement within the UK/EU
Moving plant material around within the EU is permitted, however from 14th December 2019, plant passporting is extended to all genera and to movements both within the UK and across EU borders in order to ensure traceability of plants through the trade.

This does not apply to plants sold retail, (face-to-face,) but it will apply to internet/mail order sales and sale to a retailer. Any professional operator moving or selling plants, cuttings, bulbs and some seeds and plant products will require plant passport authorisation from APHA Plant Health. A draft list of the plants, seeds and plant products covered by the legislation is here. The plant passport will have to be applied to each of the lowest tradeable units.

You can apply to be a registered issuer of plant passports. Contact your local APHA officer to find out how to obtain your registration number. 

The requirement to notify APHA Plant Health of the movement of some genera into the UK from the EU will still apply, notification must be made before or within 3 days of arrival

For more details see - SRSF


DEFRA are providing updates regarding Brexit and likely effects on plant movement within the EU. However, the rules outlined above will be transposed into UK law if we leave the EU.

Conserving the diversity of garden plants

eg: plant genus, common name, county, collection holder name.