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Combatting COVID-19

Following the postponement of FutureScape Spring, we delve into how coronavirus is causing concern in the horticulture industry as well as how companies are tackling the virus head on

The impact of coronavirus has been universal. From supermarket shelves being stripped bare to international flights being cancelled and whole offices being deserted in favour of working from home, fears of the deadly virus spreading further are leading to drastic action.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared pandemic by the WHO on 11 March as it continues to spread to numerous countries across the globe. The death toll has surpassed 8,000 worldwide; in the UK, 104 people have passed away out of the 2,600 who have tested positive for the virus, at the time of writing. Whilst cases in China – where the virus is thought to originate – begin to slow, the outbreak remains a concern for countries within Europe, most notably Italy. As one of the worst affected countries with a death toll exceeding 1,000, Italy is on lockdown, with tourist destinations which were once overcrowded now left sparse – even the streets of Venice have been left eerily deserted.




With Europe considered the epicentre of the pandemic, the US has brought in a 30-day ban on travellers entering the country from the UK and the Republic of Ireland alongside 26 other European countries. The Premier League has been brought to an abrupt halt whilst Scotland has banned gatherings of more than 500 people – Austria has gone so far as to ban gatherings of more than five.

Needless to say, the outbreak has had a domino effect on the buoyancy of certain industries, not least the horticulture sector. Anticipating the UK government to follow suit and introduce a similar ban to other countries,
a series of event cancellations have taken place, including FutureScape Spring 2020. The landscaping trade event was due to take place on 17 March but has now been postponed until July to protect staff, exhibitors and visitors. Managing director Jim Wilkinson called these “exceptional circumstances”, adding we now need to act “for the good of the landscape community”.

The RHS also announced it would cancel all of its shows and events up until 30 June, after the government revealed it will no longer support mass gatherings which could be a drain on emergency services. This includes the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which has not been cancelled since the Second World War. “Our RHS shows are vitally important platforms for the horticultural industry, and we are especially aware of the impact of cancelling these events on everyone involved,” director general Sue Biggs says. “We will be doing all we can to help growers and nurseries to sell the plants they will have grown for the cancelled shows.

“As with everyone, we have no crystal ball, but for the time being we are planning our summer flower shows and our gardens remain open, as they are large outside spaces where people can escape in open space and benefit from some tranquillity and beauty, surrounded by nature – all things that are much needed during these unsettling times.”




The Society of Garden Designers has also taken the plunge and postponed its Spring 2020 Conference from 25 April to 18 July “due to the unfolding coronavirus”, as has Barcham Trees by cancelling its Big Barn Conference due to be held on 17 June. The nursery took into account the international speakers who would need to travel to the event and the health implications for all attendees. Keith Sacre, sales director for Barcham Trees, commented: “We are sorry for any inconvenience and disappointment that this may cause, but hope you understand that this decision has not been taken lightly.”

Daily updates and advice are being provided by the prime minister Boris Johnson, and with restrictions on movement being encouraged, there are few – if any – positive headlines currently. But companies are taking action to make their employees feel safe and secure. Green-tech, for example, have released a statement detailing its steps to minimise the spread of the virus, which includes setting up a COVID-19 response team. It said: “This group is meeting daily to review and revise any necessary actions as the constantly changing situation and
advice develops.”

Contractor Ground Control has also put measures in place whilst striving to have a positive outlook. “In early March, we tested our business continuity plans; with the virus spreading so rapidly, we had enacted ‘working from home’ for all our office-based staff,” explains managing director Marcus Watson.




“Whilst there can be no doubt that every aspect of our economy will be impacted, the fundamentals of the landscaping industry are pretty good in comparison to other economic areas such as air travel, hospitality, and tourism, all of which are being impacted very severely. Firstly, our industry is largely UK-based and relies to a lesser extent on global supply chains and connectedness. This limits the immediate impact. In addition, working mostly outside, our colleagues work in environments that present lower-risks of cross-infection (always following government advice and good hygiene) and so we can continue to work unless we are sick, showing symptoms. Finally, many companies in our sector have mixed revenue streams that include recurring maintenance. This means that there is continuity of work during these challenging times, with the infrastructure investments announced in the budget recently.

“So, plan for the worst and hope for the best, and whilst we are in the middle of the storm, let us draw comfort that our industry is more resilient than many others.”

Craig Nester of Habitat Landscapes is also eager to ensure the industry remains hopeful, saying clients are still in need for landscaping services and the right approach towards clients can keep the work coming in. “We sent out a letter of reassurance…to our clients about what procedures we had in place to protect our staff and them. The response…was great – no cancellations and for two elderly clients who were worried, we phoned and confirmed everything with them – that they had booked us in, and reassured that we will be taking necessary measures. We’ve even offered support for them whilst onsite, like collecting shopping, etc. We have to find the positives where we can.”

Whilst there’s little doubt that COVID-19 will lead to tough times ahead, the horticulture industry appears determined to act and to stay strong throughout and work together.


What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an illness which affects airways and lungs, with symptoms including a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath. It is a strain of the coronavirus and was first identified in Wuhan City, China. The NHS recommends washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, using hand sanitiser when these are not available, to prevent it spreading.

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