New war against army of termites army

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The Independent Online
SCIENTISTS WENT to war yesterday against a rare colony of stubborn termites that is destroying two holiday homes on the Devon coast.

It was hoped the termites, which were discovered four years ago and make up Britain's only infestation of the insect, had been killed off when they were originally treated at the time.

But a few weeks ago they were found to have survived and were happily munching their way through the two beach-front properties in Saunton, north of Bude.

Around one million termites are thought to be advancing on a 190ft-long front, chewing their way through the wooden infrastructure of the pounds 200,000 luxury houses.

The termite-busting team, led by Dr Robert Verkerk from Imperial College, London, includes scientists from the Building Research Establishment and the Natural Resources Institute.

Funded by pounds 190,000 of government money, they are beginning their attack on the voracious insects, who have already rendered the properties uninhabitable, with an inspection of the site.

They will then examine other timbers in a 200-metre radius around the affected properties including fence posts and tree stumps. If it is discovered the infestation has spread beyond that range, the examination will be extended to a 500-metre radius.

The team will sink cylinders of unaffected wood into the ground further out still and wait to see if they are attacked, so they will be able to gauge the full extent of the infestation. These cylinders of wooden "bait" will then be replaced with wood treated with an environmentally friendly chemical called hexaflumuron, an insect growth-regulator with the toxicity of table salt.

A spokesman from the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions, said: "This is eaten by worker termites who transfer it to the young developing insects who then fail to mature, eventually wiping out the population - we hope."

It could take the team as long as two years to eradicate the colony completely and it will continue to monitor the area for at least another decade. Several householders in the area have been asked to participate in the monitoring programme.

Termites, which can wreck houses and wipe out crops, are usually found in tropical countries although some are also present in temperate climes, such as the south of France.

The DETR says it is thought that the Devon colony was introduced inadvertently to Britain in the soil of a pot plant brought from the Continent.

These creatures, often considered to be the most destructive of insects, usually live in mounds built of soil mixed with saliva which can be up to 12ft high and hold upwards of six million insects.

The queen termite can produce 360,000 eggs a day. However, because of Britain's cooler climate, the Devon termites have bred and fed more slowly and therefore the colony is not as big as it could be.