News Release

Helen Mirren voices new plant health animation

Business Announcement

John Innes Centre

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."

For more information about Xylella and BRIGIT visit:

The animation is now available using this link - which will go 'live' at 00:01 GMT Monday 13 JANUARY 2019.

For more information please contact Felicity Perry in the John Innes Centre press office: | +44 1603 450269 | +44 7881 255193


BRIGIT is working to build capability to understand and prevent introduction of vector-borne plant pathogens to the UK and investigate the challenges they pose to UK flora. To do this a consortium of 12 UK research organisations are working collaboratively to enhance UK surveillance and response to Xylella fastidiosa.

Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial plant disease that is transmitted by insects that feed on the xylem tissues of plants. Xylella has been described by the European Commission as "one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide." This pathogen infects 500 species including crops, ornamental plants, and trees.

Co-ordinated by the John Innes Centre, BRIGIT is a £4.85m programme aiming to improve methods of diagnosis and detection of Xylella, to identify factors that could lead to its spread, and to prepare to minimise the risk of the pathogen to the UK.

Currently, Xylella is not present in the UK. If Xylella-infected plants were imported to the UK, there is potential for the bacterium to establish and spread across the country, with consequences for horticulture, forestry, domestic gardens, woodlands and native ecosystems, with economic, environmental and social impacts.

The research carried out by the BRIGIT consortium will focus on how Xylella may spread in the UK either via insects or transport of plants.

The BRIGIT consortium involves scientists across a spectrum of biological and social sciences from the following organisations: John Innes Centre, Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales (NMU), the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Fera Science Ltd, Forest Research, Royal Horticultural Society, Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, the University of East Anglia, the University of Salford, the University of St Andrews, the University of Stirling and the University of Sussex.

The consortium will collaborate with international scientists and organizations, including the University of Lisbon on further characterization of the insect vector.


Further information

More information about the project can be found on the programme webpages -

About the funding

This consortium is part of the bacterial plant diseases programme, a £17.7m collaboration between two UK Research and Innovation councils - the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) - together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish Government which are providing £1.1m of additional funding.

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