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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Alarm bells ring over beetles
Heather beetle
The heather beetle is similar in size to a house fly
Gamekeepers across the north of the country have reported huge swarms of heather beetles which threaten to eat their way through acres of moorland.

Experts said it could be the worst outbreak on record, hitting up to 3% of moors, and climate change is blamed.

Beetle larvae attack growing heather, leaving behind reddish-brown patches.

The Game Conservancy Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage both want landowners to report outbreaks so that they can mount a controlled operation.

Swarms of up to one million have already been reported from some estates.

Currently, the only solution is to burn the heather earlier in the autumn although experts said a reverse in global warming would go a long way to solving the problem.

Simon Thorp, director of the Heather Trust, said: "We are on the case and trying to work against the heather beetle.

Climate change

"The problem is when they lay their eggs, because the eggs hatch and the larvae eat the tips of the heather."

It is thought that climate change may be one of the factors responsible for the increase in beetles.

The heather beetle, which manifests itself in a reddish tinge over the heather, emerges during spring and feeds on the purple plant during warmer weather.

Areas from Loch Ness to Moray are thought to be the worst affected.

Heather has long been associated with the hills and glens of Scotland, and has proved a valuable financial asset for Scotland's tourist industry.

The plant also helps encourage a diversity of species as well as providing ideal sites for many sporting estates.

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