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Calls for log import suspension over beetle concerns

Farmers who grow commercial forestry are calling for the suspension of log imports from Scotland until better safeguards are in place to prevent the spread of the spruce bark beetle to this country.

The beetle which is widespread in Scotland, the UK and across Europe, can damage and kill spruce trees but has never been detected here.

The suspension comes as another non-native bark beetle has been found in Co Clare.

Spruce trees grow quickly and tall and are the mainstay of Ireland’s commercial forestry, being used for a wide range of timber products for house construction and other applications.

Spruce trees account for 50% of the trees in Ireland.

However, for various reasons including recent delays in forestry licensing and a drop in harvesting during Covid-19, over 150,000 tonnes of spruce logs with their bark still present are imported from Scotland every year for processing in Irish sawmills.

Damaged spruce trees in the Harz National Park area of Germany, suffering from bark beetle outbreaks

That is despite the fact that the spruce bark beetle is found in that country. However, only logs from western Scotland’s Pest Free Area (PFA), where the beetle is not present, are brought here.

Despite this Irish farmers with spruce plantations now want those imports stopped until better biosecurity measures are in place.

“We need a temporary ban until we upgrade the biosecurity measures,” says Jason Fleming, National Forestry Chairman of the IFA.

“We have a massive concern that if this beetle gets into this country we are in big trouble. Most of the timber in this country is spruce and forestry is on its knees already and it will be the final nail in the coffin if this gets in.”

He added more needs to be done to ensure the pests never arrive in Ireland.

“We have no problem with imports but we have to protect what we have. The checks are being done at the moment but we don’t think they are up to scratch, so we want the logs debarked on the Scottish side, and on from that there is kiln drying that kills every pest on that log.”

Mr Fleming says debarking the logs would ensure the spruce bark beetle, which is known to live under that bark, is no longer present.

The beetle is still spreading in Scotland and even though logs coming here originate in the Scottish Pest Free Area, a risk of the insects arriving here remains, and no-one wants a repeat of what happened when ash dieback disease spread to Ireland.

The spruce bark beetle attacks the trees by burrowing under the bark, where it lays eggs.

Larvae then feed on the inner bark area, affecting the tree’s ability to transport nutrients and water up and down the trunk.

In some cases the tree may die, but usually it does not.

Feeding spots in spruce wood caused by bark beetles

That’s an important fact to consider according to John Murray, The Chairman of the Irish Timber Council, that represents sawmills here.

“This beetle has been in Scotland for 50 years and has not been a threat to Scottish forestry and by extension to that is no threat to Irish forestry so it’s not appropriate to ban the importation of logs,” he says.

“Of course it is better that we protect Ireland and keep it out, but there are procedures in place that have worked. We have been importing logs from Scotland for 20 years and the system has worked.”

Mr Fleming says Scotland is a major supply source for the industry here, and there have been problems accessing sufficient quantities of spruce because of both forestry licensing delays and the absence of a sustainability certification system for private growers.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Forestry is Senator Pippa Hackett.

Minister Hackett says she is working along with her Department on coming up with a certification system.

She maintains there is sufficient spruce available in this country for industry needs, but also defends the importation of logs from Scotland.

“There’s never been a case (of spruce bark beetle) in the Pest Free Area and we have even increased the pest free buffer zone for the PFA, in effect further reducing the area from which we will import logs.”

The minister added “my department constantly monitors the threat of bark beetles and there is a very robust inspection regime not only on the Scottish side but also here. 100% of consignments are checked.”

The spruce bark beetle attacks the trees by burrowing under the bark, where it lays eggs

The minister also says unilateral moves to ban imports would not be viable given that we operate within EU and international trade rules.

Ironically the debate about keeping the spruce bark beetle out of the country is taking place after another non-native bark beetle has recently been detected here.

Known as the Monterey pine engraver, the beetle originates in Mexico.

It is considered a secondary pest with no evidence of serious damage to trees.

Cratloe in Co Clare and the areas immediately around it are the only places in Europe the beetle has been found.

How it arrived here is mystery, but Cratloe is located close to Shannon Airport as well as the busy Foynes Port on the Shannon Estuary.

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