Confor welcomes weevil control project

13 August 2018

A new and innovative approach to tackling a pest which could save the UK forestry sector millions of pounds a year has been welcomed by Confor. 

Fergus Ewing, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, has launched a new project to tackle the most serious problem for newly-planted young trees in Scotland, the large pine weevil or Hylobious abietis. See Press Release.

Confor's Technical Director Andrew Heald said: “Weevils are small insects but a big problem for Scotland's thriving £1 billion forestry and wood sector. The pest eats the bark from young newly planted trees and left unchecked, can easily kill them. It is found across the UK and is capable of damaging and killing all conifer species in Scotland, as well as many species of broadleaved trees."

The weevils lay their eggs in the cut stumps of harvested trees and young weevils emerge in spring to eat saplings that have been planted. Climate change appears to be affecting weevil numbers, with milder weather lengthening breeding seasons. 

A new research competition - backed with up to £550,000 of funding from the CAN DO Innovation Challenge Fund initiative - aims to support innovative and environmentally-friendly ways to control the large pine weevil. The project will be led by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) partnered by Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council. 

Mr Heald added: “There is a huge opportunity to develop new and innovative techniques to control weevils. Several  companies have been investing and trialling new approaches over the last decade with varying degrees of success; this research competition is a great way to turbo-charge some new ideas and develop a market-ready solution.” 

Tim Liddon, Forestry Director of Tilhill Forestry, the UK’s largest forest management company, said: "Tilhill Forestry is delighted to hear of FES’s successful bid to the CAN DO Innovation Challenge Fund. This fund will generate opportunities to progress science in the hopes of achieving sustainable integrated Hylobius management. We very much look forward to working with FES in seeking new solutions." 

Fergus Ewing MSP said: “The pine weevil is a serious threat to the economic, social and environmental benefits that forestry provides. Each year, it is estimated to cause direct losses of around £5million per year across the UK and significantly delay the re-establishment of future forest crops.

“We need to develop an innovative and successful solution to tackle this serious pest of young trees. This project being run by Forest Enterprise Scotland has the potential to significantly improve the sustainable management of woodland in Scotland.”

The project will fund the research and development of potential solutions that are cost-effective, have a low environmental impact and that can be developed as a marketable product that can compete with existing Hylobious control options.

Existing options are centred on insecticide controls but new solutions – such as biological control agents, alternative insecticides, physical barriers and pheromone traps – will all be considered.

Prospective innovators will have eight weeks between September and November to submit proposals and up to five successful applicants will be awarded up to £30,000 to turn their idea into a commercially competitive product. 

After five months of testing, two viable concepts could be awarded contracts worth up to £200,000 to test the newly developed control options in the field and over  the tree planting seasons 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Successful bidders will retain intellectual property rights to their ideas so that they can be seamlessly brought to market after the end of the R&D phase.

Further information and considerations – and details of how to apply – can be found here.