Keeping the tradition of conker contests alive – scientists battle with tree bugs

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A team of scientists in mid-Wales is working to make sure that the 2011 World Conker Championships to be held near Oundle, Northamptonshire on 9 October is just one of many more in the future.

Horse chestnut trees across the UK have been disfigured by attack from the larvae of Cameraria ohridella – better known as the horse chestnut leaf miner – since the first moth was found Wimbledon in 2002.

Now the IMPACT project - Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends - is looking at new ways to prevent the spread of the pest which has already started attacking trees in Wales and is still spreading here.

“The leaf miner larvae currently do little permanent damage to the trees, although they progressively damage the leaves during the year, leading to the unhealthy autumnal appearance of heavily infested trees,” said Professor Hugh Evans, head of Forest Research in Wales, who leads the project which is part funded by Forestry Commission Wales.

The familiar appearance of the horse chestnut tree is threatened because the leaf miner disfigures the leaves as it feeds by ‘mining’ inside them and causing the leaves to go brown in late summer.

“'While the leaf miner does not kill trees, there is a serious bleeding canker disease that does,” said Professor Evans.

“Our concern is that, combined with environmental effects arising from climate change, the two organisms will seriously affect this iconic tree in the future. These are further examples of the growing list of invasive organisms that have arrived on our shores and threaten our trees.”

Now the IMPACT team – made up of scientists and researchers from Forest Research in Wales, Swansea University and the National University of Ireland - has begun trialing new ways of combating the tiny larvae using natural agents such as nematodes and fungi.

Having collected live larvae from woodlands in the Swansea area, the project team is now working in laboratories at Aberystwyth University, where the main project office in Wales is located.

“IMPACT is about looking to the future, preparing for what might come under future climates and through arrivals of new pests through international trade. We believe that by preparing for these threats through use of novel, environmentally benign solutions, we will be able to anticipate and manage pests such as the horse chestnut leaf miner and prevent them from becoming a real threat in the future,” said Professor Evans.

The adult leaf miner moth is 5mm long, with shiny, bright brown forewings with thin, silvery white stripes. It was originally first found in Macedonia in 1984 and has since travelled across Europe on the wind and by accidental transfer. It is still spreading from its original infestation in London and is now becoming more noticeable in Wales.

Professor Hugh Evans, Forest Research in Wales: tel – 0300 068 0079
Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications : tel – 01970 832375


IMPACT – Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends:
Is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland - Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A) and part funded by Forestry Commission Wales. It 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.

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 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.

Swansea University: 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

NUIM, Maynooth: National University of Ireland, Maynooth is one of four constituent universities of the federal National University of Ireland. The university traces its origins directly to the foundation in 1795 of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and it is Ireland's second oldest university.

Forestry Commission Wales: 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