Funding for research to tackle weevil menace

Inverness College UHI has been awarded up to £30,000 to develop a new technique to manage the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis) – the most serious pest of newly planted young trees in Scotland.

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The large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis)

The pine weevil is estimated to cause direct losses of around £5million to forestry across the UK every year as well as causing significant delays to the re-establishment of future forest crops.

Forestry researchers at Inverness College UHI are developing a biodegradable barrier, derived from locally available plant extracts, mixed with an entomopathogenic fungus that will infect and kill the weevils.

The barrier will be applied to young trees in three trial areas in the Highlands from April through to June. Researchers will measure its impact by monitoring damage to young trees and presence of dead weevils.

Dr Euan Bowditch, Inverness College UHI researcher, said: “Impacts from pests and diseases will continually compromise profitability of forestry and potentially undermine the economic feasibility, it is an inevitable part of management – However, there is no reason why we cannot look for innovation solutions that tackle major problems, such as the weevil that attack newly planted forests in overwhelming numbers. We thought, if a combination of native fungi and vegetative extracts could provide an extra increment of protection to the trees during their most vulnerable period, as well as cumulatively targeting the weevil population this could be the difference between profitable stands and quality timber that supports and develops a stronger Scottish forestry sector. This is what we aim to do and what we all hope will happen.”

Inverness College UHI is one of 5 consortiums to be awarded funding from the Scotland Can Do Innovation Challenge to develop new techniques for managing the large pine weevil.

Administered by Scottish Enterprise, the fund is a joint project between Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Funding Council. Forest Enterprise Scotland is leading the project for the UK, with additional delivery support from ConFor and Forest Enterprise England.

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

The companies now have five months to develop and prove their ideas, in a bid to win further funding of up to £200,000 for prototype testing of one or two of the proposed new control options.

Innovation funding has also been awarded to:

  • Omma Tech – to develop an ultra-low-power remote unit and camera system to detect and record the weevil population remotely, removing the need for laborious manual monitoring but allowing for better informed, timed and targeted approach to controlling weevil populations.
  • Neem Co. – to develop a plant protection product derived from the seeds of the Indian neem tree that will be applied to young forest trees to discourage weevil feeding and luring them to feed on a toxic bait before they feed on any young trees.
  • Forest Research – to develop a web-based decision support system to help forest planners manage the sequence and pattern of tree felling to reduce the risk of Hylobius attack and limit the opportunities for the weevils to move around the forest landscape and colonise felling sites.
  • Research and Commercial Partnership – to develop an advanced monitoring system to assess populations of Hylobius abietis, and predict their damage prior to tree planting and the need for remedial action. The system will be designed to perform as a ‘trap, treat and release’ device to deliver natural biological control agents, that are active against adult weevils, to control Hylobius populations sustainably.

(Original press release issued by Scottish Forestry)