A BUFFER zone to prevent the spread of Ips typographus in England has been extended about 100 miles north as forestry officials scramble to fight back against the pest. 

Forestry Commission chiefs have confirmed the current demarcated area will soon include parts of Bedfordshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk after the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle was found in East Anglia for the first time

Having previously been confined to the likes of Kent and East Sussex (as well as a one-off case in Scotland), that discovery suggested the pest, which poses a particular threat to spruce trees, was moving further north, with this week's news pointing to the seriousness of the situation. 

FC spokesperson Andrea Deol said: “Following a report of Ips typographus to the Forestry Commission in East Anglia, we conducted a swift investigation including rapid eradication measures, alongside wider environment surveillance to determine the scale of the issue and identify additional suitable management actions.

Forestry Journal: A comparison of the previous area and the new one A comparison of the previous area and the new one (Image: FC)

“All landowners, managers and timber processors should remain vigilant for Ips typographus. It is important for landowners to continue to check the health of spruce trees on their land, this is particularly important now we are entering the next flight season.” 

First identified in the UK in Kent in 2018, Ips prefers stressed or dying trees but under the right conditions it can attack healthy trees and has the potential to cause significant damage to Great Britain’s forestry and timber industries. 

Within the demarcated area, the felling and movement of all spruce material, including trees and wood with bark, isolated bark, and wood chip with bark, is prohibited unless authorised by the FC. Woodland managers must provide written notification to the FC if they intend to fell or kill any trees of the genus Picea A. Dietr over three metres in height. 

Additionally, processing of spruce material which has originated in the demarcated area may only be undertaken at premises authorised by the FC to receive this material and there is also a prohibition of susceptible material being left in situ, unless authorised in writing by a plant health inspector.

Given the importance of spruce to the timber industry, the news is likely to be of major concern to many of the UK's foresters. 

Christopher Williams, Royal Forestry Society chief executive, said: "I urge all to be extra vigilant. Spruce is a mainstay of homegrown timber.  The outbreak in East Anglia has impacted Norway Spruce but Ips is also at home on Sitka and other spruce. It has the potential to do serious damage to our home-grown timber production if it is not eradicated and controlled.

“A series of storms over recent years, including Storm Arwen in 2021, have left many forested and wooded areas with spruce in a weakened and damaged state – and these are just the conditions where Ips typographus can thrive." 

While the arrival of Ips in the UK has officially been blamed on "natural dispersal (blow over)" from the continent, this theory has been disputed by some in forestry due to the distance the pest would need to have travelled. 

Ips remains one of the biggest threats in forestry and has devastated spruce trees across Europe, with Scandinavia, France, and Germany among the worst hit.