Published: 09:29, 08 December 2018
| Updated: 10:08, 08 December 2018
The UK's first ever outbreak of an eight-toothed spruce bark beetle, which ravages conifer trees, has been detected in Kent woodland.
The destructive foreign insects have been identified at an unnamed location in Ashford.
Forestry Commission officials are attempting to minimise the spread of the bugs and have issued a warning to land owners, tree nurseries and woodland managers to remain vigilant.
The discovery of the species, which has been labelled a "great concern", came following routine surveillance activity.
Further investigations of the site are being carried out after the initiation of a government contingency plan which aims to eradicate the issue.
Never seen before in the UK, the spruce bark beetle poses no risk to human health but is a serious and destructive pest.
Smaller spruce trees - less than 15 years old - including domestic Christmas trees, are too small to be susceptible to infestation and very unlikely to be affected by the outbreak.
'It poses no threat to human health, but can be a serious pest of the spruce tree species...' - Nicola Spence
Nicola Spence, the UK Chief Plant Health Officer, said: "An outbreak of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle in an area of woodland in Kent has been confirmed.
"It poses no threat to human health, but can be a serious pest of the spruce tree species.
"We are taking swift and robust action to limit the spread of this outbreak as part of our well-established biosecurity protocol used for tree pests and diseases.
"I encourage anyone who suspects a sighting of the bark beetle to report these to the Forestry Commission on the Tree Alert portal."
Caroline Ayre, of Confederation of Forest Industries, said: "The discovery of this outbreak is of great concern to the UK forest industry.
"It is essential that everyone is vigilant and we work with the Forestry Commission to help bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion."