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Forestry advice: Spruce trees are showing all the signs of damage from green aphids



Damage caused by the green spruce aphid is very common this spring

Damage caused by the green spruce aphid is very common this spring

Damage caused by the green spruce aphid is very common this spring

It probably sounds a bit strange to say this now but I'm all for a really cold extended spell in the winter - it is a great way to control some pests and diseases. Take aphids for instance. The green spruce aphid is a very good case in point.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that spruce needles are gradually taking on a mottled appearance and are turning a blotchy pale yellow colour.

That is when I know that farmers will soon be ringing me concerned that their spruce trees have suddenly died. They notice the needles turning brown and then drop off.

In most cases, there is no cause for alarm as the culprit is a small insect called the Green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum).

These aphids are 1 to 1.5 millimetres long, olive to dull green with red eyes (allegedly - I haven't looked them in the eye yet) and are generally wingless. This little chap is different from other aphids in that it is very active during (mild) winter months, usually from October through to March but not during the summer.

These aphids feed on the sap of older needles which develop a pale mottled discolouration during the winter. Black sooty moulds can also develop on some needles.

Damage is most noticeable later in spring / early summer as many of these needles fall. New growth is unaffected and the contrast of the old sparse needles and the green new needles is very striking.

Control of these aphids is limited: chemicals are more likely to kill you rather than the aphids. There are natural enemies like ladybirds but they can only provide limited control. Fortunately, trees seldom die, but increment can be somewhat reduced.

So, that's why it is nice to have a nice, cold winter as it will help greatly keeping aphid populations down. An extended period of cold temperatures (below minus seven degrees) will kill them off.

Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor

Preventing forest fires: how we can help

We have all witnessed - once again - the desperate economic and ecological damage that uncontrolled wildfires can trigger.  So, let's have a look at the following simple, positive steps to which we all can contribute to help avoid a repetition of this horrible situation.

1 CHECK FOREST FIRE DANGER RATINGS Fire Danger Ratings are issued by the Forest Service (DAFM) and provide advance warning of high fire risk weather conditions. They are colour coded from Green through to Red. Consult the current status Teagasc forestry tweets (@teagascforestry) also provide regular updates during high risk periods.

2 FIRE PLAN Ensure you have a current and accurate fire plan for each forest. Such a fire plan should include a map showing access and assembly points for fire fighting personnel and equipment and potential sources of water. Also include contact details for the emergency services, relevant forest management companies, forest owner groups, neighbouring landowners and forest owners. Have fire-fighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps to hand and ready to use.

3 WORK WITH NEIGHBOURS Explain your concerns regarding fire risk to your neighbours. The shared threat from fire can present an ideal opportunity for forest owners to work together. This is already happening in relation to forest management and harvesting operations. 4 BE VIGILANT You should be particularly vigilant following dry spells. A period of 24-48 hours is sufficient to dry out dead moorland vegetation following rain, where windy conditions exist. Where dry conditions persist, experience suggests that you should be particularly vigilant at weekends, and at evening times, when land burning is most likely to take place.

5 CHECK FIRE BREAKS AND ACCESS ROUTES Where fire breaks are required, ensure that they are inspected regularly prior to the fire season and kept vegetation free. Fire breaks should be at least six metres wide, be easily found and clearly marked.

6 INSURE YOUR TIMBER CROP The Forest Service (DAFM) requires beneficiaries of planting grants and premiums to maintain and protect their forests. This includes an obligation to replant where a forest is damaged by fire. I would strongly recommend having adequate insurance cover in place.

7. REPORT LOSSES. If your forest is destroyed or damaged by fire, you should report this to the nearest Garda Station and to the Forest Service. Your local forestry inspector can advise on reinstatement measures.

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