Destructive stink bugs could be heading for Norfolk
- Credit: Tim Haye (CABI)
An insect invader which could stink out homes and devastate fruit crops is almost certain to find its way to Norfolk, said scientists.
The brown marmorated stink bug, a small flying pest that emits an unpleasant almond-like odour, has been confirmed in Britain for the first time - most likely after hitching a ride on packaging crates.
And while it is too early to tell whether the handful of confirmed sightings so far are individual imports or the start of a breeding population, a scientist studying them says it is "almost inevitable" they will eventually be found in Norfolk.
After adult specimens were trapped last August in the gardens of the Natural History Museum, and at the Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve near London, the potential spread of the pest was mapped by scientists from the museum and NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) in a paper published by the British Journal of Entomology and Natural History.
NIAB entomologist Dr Glen Powell, one of the report authors, said climate and rainfall modelling had identified a small part of North Norfolk, near Cromer, as one of the perfect breeding grounds for the pest - and that area expands dramatically when factoring in the impact of climate change over the next 30 years.
And that will worry growers of crops including apples, pears and soft fruit, which have been ruined by infestations in the US and in the pest's south-east Asian home.
Dr Powell said: "The North Norfolk coast is potentially very suitable for this bug, based on its temperature requirements and also other things like rainfall. It is almost inevitable it will be found there.
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"We are only finding adults so far, so we cannot prove there is a breeding population in the UK, but I think it is just a matter of time.
"Like other shield bugs, it seek shelter in the autumn and releases an 'aggregation pheromone' which leads to lots of them clustering in one place, often inside houses and on window sills. So the early impact tends to be that pest issue with them coming into houses.
"But once they get established it can be followed by agricultural damage. It is most likely apples and pears would be most at risk, but there is a wide risk to other plants including sweetcorn, soft fruits like raspberries and even field vegetables like cabbages and beans."
The bug will also worry East Anglia's burgeoning wine industry because its smell – a defence mechanism – can contaminate the delicate flavours of a wine if significant numbers move into bunches of grapes.
Dr Powell's team is now working on a monitoring project which will be followed by research into potential control strategies.
- To report a sighting, send a photo to email@example.com or the Natural History Museum’s biodiversity Facebook group.