Clouds of biting midges at the summer barbie could become a thing of the past - naturally

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10 MAY 2011NEWS RELEASE No: 14578

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A new way of combating a debilitating disease in sheep could also help end that scourge of summer-time barbecues – clouds of biting midges (Culicoides).

Scientists working on the IMPACT project are investigating new natural ways of controlling the tiny pests – which cause blue tongue disease in flocks of sheep in Wales.

The project - Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends – is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG IVA), COFORD and Forestry Commission Wales.

And the team from project partner Swansea University has just published its latest findings on work which looks at using a fungus – Metarhizium anisopliae – to control biting midges, the populations of which could increase with climate change.

“Nuisance species have a significant impact on the tourist and forest industries and can also transmit a large number of human and animal diseases,” said Professor Tariq Butt, whose work at Swansea University’s College of Science is an important part of the IMPACT project.

“For example they carry the blue tongue virus which can pose a serious threat to the Welsh livestock industry.

“Current control measures rely on synthetic pesticides, which pose a risk to humans and the environment, whereas natural alternatives do not, and with climate change projecting warmer, wetter weather these could prove a very useful alternative in reducing midge populations.”

The research team already knew that the entomopathogenic (insect-killing) fungus could successfully kill larvae of the midge Culicoides nubeculosus and could reduce inputs of harmful chemical pesticides.

Work in the laboratories at Swansea has now shown that the V275 strain of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae has potential for use in control programmes as it also kills the adult midge, with some applications having a 100 per cent success rate within five days.

“However, the agent needs to be tested in different field conditions to show it is robust, efficacious and does not pose a risk to non-target invertebrates,” said Tariq.

Now the IMPACT team, which includes specialists from Forest Research in Wales, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Swansea University, is looking for sites to carry out a series of field trials.

The project team is investigating new ways of tackling a wide variety of important pests which can have a dramatic effect on forests and woodlands across the UK and Ireland.

“The increasing extremes in our weather – hot or cold temperatures, increased rainfall and flooding – are creating the ideal conditions for forest pests either directly on their life cycles or through increased tree stress, making them less able to withstand pest attacks,” said project leader Professor Hugh Evans of Forest Research in Wales.

Contact: Professor Hugh Evans, Forest Research in Wales: Tel – 0300 068 0079.


IMPACT – Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends: This is a new project which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland - Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A) and part funded by Forestry Commission Wales. The project, called Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends – IMPACT - is led by Forest Research in Wales, a research unit launched in 2009 based at Aberystwyth, with the National University of Ireland at Maynooth and Swansea University. It runs for three years to 31 December 2012.
Further information:

Forest Research: Forest Research is the research agency of the Forestry Commission. It is a world leader in the research and development of sustainable forestry and is Britain's principal organisation for forestry and tree related research, with specialists covering topics from managing timber, and protecting woodland from climate change, to tracking new pests and diseases, and examining the social and community benefits of woodland in urban and rural areas.

Forest Research in Wales: The newly established Forest Research in Wales Unit based in Aberystwyth, looks at research opportunities within Wales and elsewhere. Interactions with a wide range of stakeholders, particularly with Forestry Commission Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, are being developed to scope and deliver research and appropriate technology transfer. Links with the research community in Wales, universities and government organisations are also being developed.

About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

Swansea University is a world-class, research-led university situated in stunning parkland overlooking Swansea Bay on the edge of the Gower peninsula, the UK's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Founded in 1920, the University now offers around 500 undergraduate courses and 150 postgraduate courses to more than 13,800 students. Visit