Cockchafers ruin Cambridge lawns in potential sign of problems to come

An "epidemic" of cockchafers has decimated the lawns of Cambridge colleges, illustrating what could be a growing problem.

The University's central colleges have been forced to rip up previously immaculate lawns, and spend thousands on controls.

Kings College head gardener Duncan Baxter said:  "I lost half my croquet lawn this year.  In the past we have taken the view that chemicals are too expensive so we are going to trial Merit, its going to cost us about £5,000 for one life cycle, and you need at least three."

Clare College head gardener Stephen Elstub said: "It seems to be getting worse and worse each year for whatever reason. It might be that we have had the right conditions the past two summers."

Bayer's Merit Turf, active ingredient imidacloprid, is currently the only chemical control available to turf managers. 

It is available for professional use only, but domestic gardeners could use the nematodes Heterorhabditis.

Elstub said he used a rotary mower to attack the problem but said that chemicals were the most effective.

The chafers eat the root zone, leaving the turf loose and easily disturbed by birds hunting them.

It is possible to limit the worst of the damage by covering lawns with netting, according to Elstub.

Sports Turf Research Institute head of turf grass protection Dr Ruth Mann said she had been following the problem for years, but that the removal of key controls in the 1990s could be starting to have an affect now.

She said:  "It definitely could be a growing problem.  Without adequate control then it probably will get worse. The main places I see it are Bristol and the south west, East Anglia and up around the Yorkshire lakes, they are the sort of places I see it year in, year out.  But the big thing is the loss of insecticides, probably a lot of places didn't realise they had chafers before that."

 

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