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Call to palm growers to stay vigilant for Red Palm Weevil

Plant health authorities are urging palm growers, importers and retailers to be on the lookout for Red palm weevil, a threat to palm trees, which was identified in the UK for the first time in October 2016.

The Red palm weevil does not pose any risk to people, pets or livestock but is known to attack and kill a large range of palm species popular in the UK. The pest is native to Asia but was accidently introduced to Spain in 1994 and since then it has spread widely in the Mediterranean region where it has devastated ornamental palms, particularly the Canary Island date palm. It was found in the UK for the first time in October 2016 inside a round-leaf fountain palm imported from Italy, which had been purchased in Essex. The infested plant was destroyed.

Professor Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer for the UK, said: “We are committed to doing everything possible to prevent plant pests and diseases crossing our borders and, although we cannot eliminate all risks, we have stringent plans to deal with threats and take prompt action when they are detected.

“In this case we quickly implemented our contingency plan with colleagues in the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) when this finding was reported to us. We surveyed susceptible palm trees within 10km of the affected tree and found no further signs of it.

“However we cannot afford to be complacent and I am appealing to the trade to look out for the Red palm weevil over the coming months and to source material carefully to avoid importing unwanted pests such as this into the UK.”

Tracing work has been carried out to locate and inspect material which was sent to other retailers and no further finds have been made to date.

Weevils do not survive the winter, however the larvae can. Larvae are legless, about 50mm long, with a creamy-white body and reddish-brown head. Adult weevils are not expected to emerge until June. They are about 35 mm long, with a characteristic long curved extension to the front of the head called a rostrum.

Suspect findings of the Red palm weevil should be reported to APHA’s Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate by telephoning 01904 405138 or by emailing: planthealth.info@apha.gsi.gov.uk

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