Compliance with plant health regulation in the wildlife trade

Compliance with plant health regulation in the wildlife trade

Compliance with plant health regulation in the wildlife trade

Lead supervisor: Dr David L Roberts 

Location: Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE)School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

Duration: 8 weeks

Suitable undergraduate degrees: Any biological sciencesor conservation science degree

Project background

The European plant passport (Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2313), is still applied in the UK and aims to make plant material traceable, so that it is easier to identify the source of plant pests and diseases. The online trade allows small businesses to prosper and provides a global reach, however this presents a significant risk for the global spread of pests and diseases. This project will provide a baseline on the level of compliance and how it varies between growing communities.

The current system suffers from a number of issues, such as the fact that individual plants are tagged with a non-tamper proof tag and there is no open system where buyers can check that a plant passport number is valid (e.g. like the DVLA). Here we will also test the use of a traceability material, SmartWater ( that is frequently used to prevent or trace theft of valuable items. As seeds are one of the most difficult items to tag under the current system we will focus on this group. The project will investigate the impact of SmartWater on the germination rate of seeds, specifically cycad and palm seeds as there are additional concerns with this group in relation to the illegal wildlife trade.

Project research

Aims: To provide an understanding of the level of uptake in the Plant Passport within online UK sellers, and to test the potential application of SmartWater.


Compliance – a systematic approach to the online survey will follow the theory behind the well-established Systematic Evidence Review approach. This aims to allow replication of the study in the future so that trends may be identified. We will limit the study to (a) individual sellers and businesses within the UK, (b) a specified time period (e.g. 1-month period), (c) open, surface web platforms (not closed groups), and (d) ornamental plants for planting. To start we will search the first 200 results from When a website is identified as selling plants, a search will be conducted to identify further advertisements within the website and record the taxa being sold and whether plant passports are mentioned.

Traceability – The student will design the experiment, however it is likely to take the design of a block with associated control and treatment. Each treatment seed will be marked with a SmartWater solution specifically developed for this experiment and provided free of charge. The taxa to be studied will depend on availability at the time of the study, however it is likely to be a species of palm and/or cycad due to the size of the seed, ongoing research in the lab and that the results will also have implication for trade under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Apply now

Click here for eligibility details and how to apply