Trees threatened by Asian beetle

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THE GOVERNMENT is taking action to prevent the spread of the Asian longhorn beetle which poses a lethal threat to hardwood trees, such as sycamore, horse chestnut, willow and poplar.

The threat emerged after the beetle was found in wooden packing cases containing Chinese imports. Sightings have been reported in various parts of England and Wales but the Forestry Commission believes that the beetles have yet to spread to trees.

To prevent this happening, import controls have been imposed on wooden packing material entering Britain from China. The insect will be included on a list of prohibited pests - and wood packaging, which carries the bulk of Chinese exports to Britain, will have to be both bark and grub- hole free. China will be given until 15 February to comply with the new rules.

Roddie Burgess, head of Forestry Commission's plant health service, said: "We know that the beetle would survive in most of the country, and that it would cause economic damage, not just to our forests and woodlands but also, possibly to fruit-growers."

The problem with the Asian longhorn beetle - Anoplophora glabripebbis - is that once it becomes embedded in trees it kills them very fast. There is no known antidote and the spread of the beetle can only be achieved by felling trees.

The beetle is about an inch long (2.5cm) and has a shiny black covering. Its most distinctive feature is its long horn-shaped feelers, which are black with white rings.

The United States has already imposed a rigorous exclusion regime.