As part of routine surveillance, plant health officers from the Forestry Commmission have discovered a breeding population of Ips typographus (eight-toothed European spruce bark beetle) in an unnamed woodland in Kent: the first such finding in the wider environment in the UK.
Sawmills and commercial timber growers will be especially concerned, as large populations of these beetles can cause significant damage to softwood plantations; although they tend to attack already weakened or windblown trees as a preference. If populations reach a high enough level, they can cause stand level die back as large groups attack individuals or groups of trees and overwhelm their natural defences, as in the picture below.
Movement controls and quarantine procedures have been put in place, while further intensive investigations are carried out. A Contingency Plan that was already in place due to the high risk posed by Ips typographus has been implemented.
Perhaps we should all be concerned, as there is a reasonable suggestion that tree death caused by bark beetles has played a large part in the devastating wild fires that have ravaged large parts of the western USA in recent years: How the bark beetle fueled California’s wildfires (Article) . This article from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies highlights the global scale of climate change increasing the speed of reproduction and brood size that can lead to huge infestations, sometimes killing whole forests as has been seen in continental Europe, the US and Canada: Small Pests, Big Problems: The Global Spread of Bark Beetles
Here we see an excellent, if worrying, example of how the knock on effects of climate change could be wide ranging and indirect; the direct impact on human lives of the huge and deadly forest fires could perhaps not have been predicted from the seemingly insignificant increase in breeding potential of a tiny bark beetle.
The European spruce bark beetle creates distinctive breeding galleries such as the one in the title image – a central channel with radiating galleries of increasing size. If you think you have spotted some of these symptoms / insects, please let the FC know by using their Tree Alert Form.