Presence of fruit fly pest confirmed in the UK after detection at East Malling Research

The presence in the UK of the spotted-wing fruit fly Drosophila suzukii has officially been confirmed following detection at East Malling Research (EMR) in Kent.

D suzukii: Image M Francisco
D suzukii: Image M Francisco

The pressure is now on to contain the fruit pest, which has become an endemic problem in continental Europe and North America, attacking soft and stone fruits in particular but also spreading to other soft-skinned crops including pears and tomatoes.

The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) launched a consultation at the start of this year, anticipating the likely arrival of the pest. Richard McIntosh of FERA's plant health policy team said: "It was decided to treat D. suzukii as an 'unregulated pest' as it is already established in Europe and is very difficult to eradicate. It's something growers will have to learn to live with."

With no statutory controls in place, a concerted industry effort to mitigate the problem has now begun. The Horticultural Development Company (HDC) is working with a range industry bodies including EMR and British Summer Fruits (BSF).

An HDC statement to growers said: "Given the location of the finding, it is quite probable that the pest already has a wider distribution, so it is vital that all growers and their staff become acquainted with the pest and start to monitor for its possible presence in fruiting crops and post-harvest."

BSF representative and Berry Gardens managing director Nicholas Marston told Grower: "There isn't any need to be alarmed but we need an effective response.

"A great deal has been learnt from the US on monitoring, chemical control and hygiene, from which HDC and EMR are preparing information to put round the industry. Where it is allowed to get out of control, losses can be significant, but if it is controlled effectively it is just another crop pest, albeit more significant than many.

"Fortunately, there is already good awareness here. But further approvals and extensions for some controls would be helpful - for example, those that can currently be used in tunnels but not outdoors and vice versa."

Pest discovery Biobest Droso-Trap used

The finding at East Malling Research was made using the Droso-Trap, developed in Belgium by Biobest and now available in the UK through bio-controls specialist Agralan.

Business development manager Mike Abel told Grower: "Hygiene is important. You shouldn't leave any waste fruit around and any infected material should be burnt or buried. You can't control the eggs or larvae because they're inside the fruit - you can only target the adults.

"There is no bio-control for it at present. We'll have to keep an eye on imports and use curative sprays, even mass trapping. We won't be able to get rid of it now, but we can keep a lid on it."

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