Dame Helen Mirren reveals her Italian grove faces deadly disease threat as she urges holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad

Helena Horton
Helen Mirren has joined forces with the RHS - Vantage News Limited

Dame Helen Mirren has revealed her Italian olive grove at the home where she spends four months a year is under threat from a deadly plant disease as she warns British holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad.

The actress has joined forces with the Royal Horticultural Society in a campaign to stop the spread of the disease Xylella fastidiosa. 

Mrs Mirren has a home in Puglia, where many of the olive trees, which are up to 2,000 years old, have been ravaged by the fast-spreading bacteria.

Her 80 olive trees have so far been unaffected by the disease, but they are at imminent risk as the disease spreads so quickly and so easily.

Dame Helen Mirren said: “I have witnessed first-hand the destruction that Xylella causes in Puglia, Italy – devastating almost overnight countless centuries-old olive trees in the businesses and communities that have long relied on them.

"Preventing Xylella’s spread is a priority and something that UK holidaymakers can support by simply avoiding bringing plants back from abroad that may be harbouring the bacterium.

“Our gardens and green spaces are vital for people and the planet and a failure to act could mean the landscapes that define us could be irreversibly changed. We desperately need more scientific research and support to ensure we can protect the historic Italian landscape and our British gardens and natural habitats for the future.” 

The government has warned that the disease is an imminent threat to the UK, and all it would take is one person bringing an infected plant back across the Channel.

The disease prevents plants from transporting water and is known to infect more than 500 different plant species with garden favourites lavender, oleander, rosemary and flowering cherry all at risk in the UK.

If found in the UK, all host plants within 100m would be destroyed and there would be restrictions on movement of specified plants within a 5km radius for up to five years - striking a death knell for gardens and horticultural businesses.

Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the RHS, added: “While importing plants in personal baggage is already subject to some restrictions we are calling on holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad and instead purchase them in the UK. Several pests and diseases are already thought to have made their way into our gardens through private importations, such as fuchsia gall mite, and we simply cannot afford for Xylella to follow.”