Confor warning after spruce bark beetle found in Kent

7 December 2018

Confor has urged the forestry industry to be vigilant and react quickly after the discovery of a breeding population of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle.

The beetle (Ips typographus) lives mainly in conifer trees such as spruce, and has caused extensive damage to forests across much of Europe. It was identified in woodland in Kent by the Forestry Commission during routine surveillance.

Caroline Ayre, Confor’s National Manager for England and its lead on plant health, said: “The discovery of the spruce bark beetle is of great concern to the UK foresters, and it is essential everyone is vigilant to bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion.

"The UK forest and timber industry is worth over £2 billion, and employs around 80,000 people. Much of that value is based on our highly productive spruce woodlands, which are at risk from this insect.”

She added: “The insects don’t usually fly during the winter, so we have a few short months to minimise the risk of this pest spreading. I urge everyone in the forestry community to check their woodlands and co-operate fully with the authorities.

"All wood brought to the UK must be free from bark, to reduce the risk of importing insects such as the bark beetle, and it is vital that the UK maintains its bio-security and that imports of any high risk material are tightly regulated.

“Confor will continue to campaign for tight regulation of imports. As the UK is the second  biggest importer of forest products in the world, a simple way to reduce the risk from these pests and diseases would be to grow and use more domestic timber here.”

The UK’s Chief Plant Health Officer, Nicola Spence, confirmed the outbreak, stressing that the beetle posed no threat to human health, but could be a serious pest to spruce.

She added: "We are taking swift and robust action to limit the spread of this outbreak as part of our well-established biosecurity protocol used for tree pests and diseases. I encourage anyone who suspects sighting of the bark beetle to report these to the Forestry Commission on the Tree Alert portal.”

The beetle, which generally prefers weakened or damaged trees, has never been discovered in the wider environment in the UK before. Smaller spruce trees (less than 15 years old), including most domestic Christmas trees, are too small to be susceptible to infestation and unlikely to be affected. Movement restrictions have been served on the site to minimise the risk of onward spread, whilst further investigations and intensive surveillance is conducted. 


Further information on tree pests and diseases, and how to identify them, is available here.


In Germany, government foresters inspect each conifer stand in their district every two weeks for signs of beetles, according to Horst Delb, head of forest health for the FVA Forest Research Institute in Freiburg, Germany, which focuses on the famed Black Forest. “We know every tree personally,” says Delb. "When an infected tree is found, it is removed right away, before the brood can hatch and infect more trees.