Trees: Ips typographus - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:48 pm on 1st November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Conservative 2:48 pm, 1st November 2021

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the arrival of the tree beetle Ips typographus in spruce trees in the southeast of England on the timber industry in the United Kingdom; and what steps they are taking to prevent further damage.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, swift action is being taken to eradicate Ips typographus on 13 sites in the south-east. Infested trees are being removed, a surveillance programme is in place and emergency legislation has been introduced to reduce the risk of spread. Both Norway and Sitka spruce are susceptible species, but the pest has been detected on only Norway spruce in the outbreak area. The commercial standing value of Norway spruce in this area is estimated at £16 million.

Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Conservative

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his reply and to the officials from Defra and the Forestry Commission, who are being so effective in endeavouring to contain the current infestations to prevent a further catastrophe that could prove comparable to Dutch elm disease and ash Chalara. Given that this beetle is airborne and has been blown in from Europe, does he not agree that establishing a cordon sanitaire is fated to be ineffectual? Thus, does he not further agree that instruction should be given to ensure that spruce trees are not planted as part of Her Majesty’s green canopy, and that the same should be true of the Government’s own new tree-planting initiatives?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are grateful, in turn, to my noble friend for his speedy resolution of a particular problem where he lives. He is right that this is a containment problem. We have an area that goes as far as Greater London and takes in parts of East Sussex and West Sussex, all of Kent and parts of Surrey. We are working hard to remove every spruce tree in that area. We are working with landowners, using aerial assets to identify where spruce trees exist so that we can create that cordon sanitaire, which will prevent this beetle from spreading over from the continent and thereby further into the United Kingdom. I will get back to him on the Queen’s canopy. That is a very important issue. I think we are using only native species.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle is only 4.2 millimetres to 5.5 millimetres long and therefore very difficult to spot and identify. How can the Government be absolutely sure that it is not more widespread than the demarcated areas to the south and east of London?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am very happy for the noble Baroness to have a detailed briefing on the measures we are taking, but we have an extensive trapping system, using pheromone traps to attract the beetle. We are counting it in infected sites and working in the containment area and beyond to make sure that it is not spreading. The phytosanitary measures we have put in to retain diseased timber in that region are also very important.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, the emergence of this dreadful disease affecting spruce underlines the need to encourage the development of pesticides if we are serious about combating these new diseases, particularly if biosecurity measures are not effective. Please will the Minister confirm that the Government will support research and development in this sector and resist attempts to introduce further disincentivising and unnecessary restrictions?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The noble Lord is aware that this is a very difficult area to get right. The beetle in question affects only mature spruce trees. It is very hard to use an insecticide on mature trees that would, first, be effective with the beetle, and secondly, not be further damaging to other species. It is part of the ongoing discussion with the Forestry Commission and its scientific experts.

Photo of Lord Jones of Cheltenham Lord Jones of Cheltenham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, for more than 200 years trapped trees, pheromone traps, which the Minister mentioned, treated trapped trees, standing trapped trees and lure-baited fallen wood have been used to capture and reduce numbers of this beetle. Does the Minister consider this a more environmentally sound way of dealing with the beetle than spraying with insecticides? What research is being carried out to discover whether these tried and tested techniques are no longer working?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We constantly ask ourselves whether we are getting this right. As things stand, the pheromone traps are very effective in identifying the range and quantity of beetles as they move around the country, but we have this matter constantly under review.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, can the Minister say what impact the restrictions put on the movement of spruce trees around the south-east of England as a result of the discovery of this pest are likely to have on the availability of spruce Christmas trees this year? Does this mean that another traditional feature of Christmas is likely to be hit by shortages?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In a word: no. The beetle does not affect trees under three metres. Some Christmas trees are higher than three metres, so I qualify what I say, but it is not expected to have any effect on Christmas or Christmas trees.