Keeping woodlands in Wales and Ireland healthy

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Welsh field trials point way to new natural, environment friendly pest control

Welsh field trials point way to new natural, environment friendly pest control

Tiny parasites are already beginning to reduce the damage to the forests of Wales caused by the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis) – the single most important insect pest of plantation forestry in Europe. The microscopic worms – called nematodes –occur naturally in the UK and are entomopathogenic, attacking and killing the larvae, pupae and young adult Hylobius. They can reduce the Pest population in Welsh forests by 40 per cent and more.

Now researchers have drafted in reinforcements for the micro-bugs, as predicted climate change begins to add to the threat from pests facing the trees of Wales. And they have begun field trials using a cocktail of insect-killing fungi alongside the nematodes - increasing the efficiency of natural control and reducing further the need for chemical protection of young trees.

Forest Research in Wales is looking at improved pest control measures through a new project - IMPACT – with partners from Swansea University and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Top of the agenda for the Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends (IMPACT) team is assessing just how changing climate will influence the damage caused by pests and pathogens.

“One of our first research projects is looking at this innovative way of using two control agents together,” said Dr Hugh Evans, Head of Forest Research in Wales and co-ordinator of the new project, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A), with match funding from Forestry Commission Wales.

“As the climate becomes warmer and wetter the conditions will improve for Hylobius, so it is important that we should have even more effective controls,” Dr Evans said.

“Already the nematodes acting by themselves have enabled us to reduce our reliance on insecticides. The belief is that together the organisms will have a multiplier effect, which means we can apply smaller amounts of both for improved impact.”

Initial field trials of the innovative multi-agent approach have begun this week at Cwmberwyn, a plantation near Tregaron badly affected by the large pine weevil. Researchers from FR in Wales and Swansea University are dissecting stumps to recover the weevil larvae and pupae as well as setting traps to catch any emerging adults that may have survived.

Laboratory analysis will show how the control agents are working individually and in combination, while trap counts will show how many weevils are killed.

“We believe our work will help preserve the environmental quality of the area whilst enabling better establishment of new forests, so increasing both timber production and carbon capture,” said Forest Research in Wales’ Finlay McAllister, who is helping co-ordinate the trials.

“At worst up to 100 per cent of newly planted trees can be lost to Hylobius, delaying establishment and increasing costs as well as creating gaps which reduce timber yield and quality,” said Finlay.

The IMPACT scientists expect future weather extremes – drought, flooding, higher and lower temperatures – to put woodlands under increasing levels of stress.

Increased stress lowers the trees defences, opening them up to attack from insect pests such as the pine weevil, bark beetles, wood boring beetles and a wide range of root and leaf feeders, all of which affect tree growth, sometimes leading to tree death. The key will be biological control integrated into novel monitoring regimes, concentrating especially on microbial control agents – fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasitic nematodes.

The IMPACT partnership already has a strong track record in use of these agents and expects to deliver improved technology to any land users whose trees are at risk from pest infestations. The three year project will also be featured at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 20 July at the Confor stand in the Forestry Section and at the Royal Entomological Society Annual Meeting in Swansea 26-28 July.

17 July 2010

Contact:
Dr Hugh Evans, Forestry Research in Wales: Tel – 0300 068 0079
Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications: Tel – 01970 832375

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