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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK


UK trees at risk from Chinese beetle

The beetle comes from China

Environment Correspondent Robert Pigott reports from New York
The UK Forestry Commission is appealing to the public to help it eradicate an alien invader. The Asian Longhorned Beetle is already causing immense damage in the United States.

Thousands of trees that line the city streets of New York and Chicago have had to be destroyed.

[ image: Thousands of trees have been felled]
Thousands of trees have been felled
It is feared a similar pestilence could now strike the UK with sightings of the beetle being reported in several locations.

The insect originates from China. It is transported abroad in wooden packing cases. It is a spectacular-looking creature with long striped antennae. Each female is capable of laying between 30 and 70 eggs in a cycle.

These hatch in 10-15 days and the larvae tunnel under the bark and into the tree where they eventually pupate. Fully-formed adults then emerge to spread the infestation by boring a large hole in the wood.

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New York has lost 3,000 trees already
Since the beetle was first discovered in New York two years ago, 3,000 of the city's precious street trees have been felled.

[ image: The larvae tunnel under the bark]
The larvae tunnel under the bark
"People don't realise what the trees do for them until they lose them," says Joe Gittleman from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). "They filter the air, they give shade and protect us from high winds in the winter."

The beetle prefers maple species of tree, including the box elder, Norway, red, silver, sugar and sycamore maples. This could spell disaster for New England which is famed for its maples. A state like Vermont is 80% forest and almost every third tree is a maple.

The loss of a significant number of these trees would devastate the state's tourist and timber industries, and especially its production of maple syrup worth $150m annually.

Natural predators

"It would be just devastating if we lost our maple industry as far as I am concerned, and for the state and tourist industry," says Doug Webb, who has been making syrup for 70 years. "We're so dependent on our maple trees."

[ image: Dr Margaret Skinner:  The beetle is hard to stop]
Dr Margaret Skinner: The beetle is hard to stop
But stopping the spread of the beetle is proving difficult.

"This is a foreign pest in a new environment, so there are no natural predators that keep this population in check on its own," says Dr Margaret Skinner from the University of Vermont. "This makes it a particular threat to our environment."

In the US, people are being asked to look out for hollowed-out egg sites on trees, strands of sawdust sticking out of them, or the bigger holes through which beetles have escaped.

The UK Forestry Commission is now asking for similar help from the British public. There have been about 20 reported sightings of the beetle or evidence of its presence in Britain. Again, these have been in wooden packing cases from China but there have been, as yet, no cases of the insect attacking trees.

The Commission is so concerned about the threat, UK law has been amended to make it illegal for anyone to knowingly bring the creatures into the country. Anyone who finds the beetle should report it.

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