Beetle response is ‘not enough’

An infestation of willow beetles
An infestation of willow beetles

Calls for regulations on insect pests have been made after a summer infestation near Lurgan.

DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen confirmed that no regulation is in place to combat the Willow Beetle plague.

Residents in the Donaghcloney/Waringstown area suffered a dreadful summer as thousands of the beetles swarmed around homes close to a Willow farm.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson took up the cause and asked the Agriculture Minister in the NI Assembly if she was aware of the infestation and whether investigations had been instigated by her Department.

Mrs Dobson also asked the minister to outline what regulations exist to protect the residents affected.

The minister responded: “I was recently made aware of the nuisance caused by willow beetles to those living along the Ballynabragget Road near Donaghcloney. A Forest Service official visited the site which is adjacent to a plantation of Short Rotation Coppice willow in late August.

“Although no regulation exists to control willow beetle, I understand that the farmer who manages the willow and also lives on the Ballynabragget Road, is in contact with some of his neighbours.

“He has removed a row of coppice in his fields nearest their homes to help mitigate the issue and has plans to coppice the willow in the spring 2017 in order to reduce the crop to near ground level.

“I understand that the population of willow beetles varies considerably from year to year and that a heavy infestation in one year does not mean that it will be repeated the following year.”

However, her response was rebuffed by one resident who said that in previous years similar action had been taken to no avail.

He called on more stringent regulations to protect residents against the beetle infestation.

“These insects are not part of our ecology. They have no natural predator,” said the local resident.