Pest invades UK


26 July 2023
As Colorado Potato beetle makes its first appearance since 1977, we look at why the country has been put on high alert.

THE UK has witnessed its first outbreak of the Colorado Potato Beetle since 1977.

Although the pest is endemic in large parts of Europe, the UK has prided itself on being able to keep it at bay over the past 70 years and is now on high alert, as the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) works closely with the affected grower to eradicate the pest from the site, including performing a 1km survey to determine whether there are further cases beyond the immediately-infested area.

If not eradicated, Colorado potato beetles are a significant threat to potato crops. The adult beetles and larvae feed on the foliage of potato and several other plants in the nightshade family and can completely strip them of their leaves if they are left uncontrolled. However, they are not a threat to human or animal health.

UK Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence said: “Following a report, our experts have identified the presence of Colorado beetle larvae in a potato field in Kent. We are responding swiftly through our eradication programme, involving ground surveillance to look for beetles and larvae at the outbreak site and surrounding area.

"Whilst this pest does not pose a threat to human health, we encourage all growers, farmers, processors and the public to remain vigilant and report any sightings, especially in Kent.”

The beetle is not endemic to the UK and is currently regulated as a Great Britain quarantine pest, with import and movement restrictions in place for susceptible host material. APHA is obligated to act upon the current findings and eradicate this pest to support its efforts to maintain this status. Statutory Notices will be issued to ensure the containment and eradication of this pest is undertaken. 

Farmers and growers in particular are being encouraged to remain vigilant for signs of the pest. The beetle is bright yellow or orange with black stripes and is usually between 8.5 to 11.5mm in length and 3mm in width. Its larvae are a reddish brown in colour, round and globular, and up to 15mm in length.

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Although distinctive in appearance, there are several beetles that are frequently mistaken for them, including native and introduced species.

Host species for the Colorado Beetle are the nightshade family which include the Solanaceae family (including tomato plants, aubergines, peppers, cabbages, salad leaf, wild carrot, lettuce, parsley, tobacco as well as potatoes).

The beetles are occasionally imported into the UK from continental Europe as ‘hitchhikers’ on non-host plant material, such as leafy vegetables, salad leaves, fresh herbs and grain and are reported to the UK Plant Health Service who act on the findings. In the past 70 years, there have been two outbreaks of Colorado potato beetles in the UK, one in 1976 and one in 1977. Both outbreaks were eradicated shortly after detection.

While Colorado potato beetle adults and larvae pose a significant threat to potato crops, they do not threaten human or animal health.

Colorado potato beetle was first recorded in 1811 in the USA. The beetle has since spread across the USA, and moved into Canada, Central America, Europe and Asia.

It first established in Europe in Bordeaux, France, in 1921, and is now present in most European countries. However, it has yet to establish in the UK.

Any suspected findings of the Colorado potato beetle or its larvae should be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, whether in a commercial, environmental, or domestic setting, by getting in touch here or by telephoning: 0300 1000 313 (please select option 3 when calling).

Following discovery of the pest, appropriate action will be taken to prevent further spread, including removing and destroying the potato crop within the immediate vicinity in a biosecure manner.

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