§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are continuing to give financial support to the experiment of reducing the expanding nuisance of bracken by the use of selected species of imported caterpillar, subject to ecological vigilance and control.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)
No, my Lords. We recently reviewed our bracken research programme and received research proposals from six groups, including one which involved caterpillars. We decided, however, to aid a different project related to the rehabilitation of bracken-infested land which will be undertaken by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology at Monks Wood and the University of Liverpool.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. As the successful experiment in this country is almost complete, do the Government recognise the immense benefit to be gained from ridding much of the countryside of envelopment by bracken which displaces other plant life and reduces wildlife?
My Lords, to date the work in that area suggests that caterpillars would weaken rather than kill bracken. Moreover, the further research proposal we received includes near market work with herbicide manufacturers on integrating biological control with the use of herbicides. It is not government policy to fund quasi-commercial work of that kind.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, would it not be better to spray the bracken immediately? Should we find enough caterpillars to eat it, we shall have to spray them later on.
My Lords, the difficulty with chemical treatment is that it is expensive; it needs repeated application to be effective and there are problems of spray drift.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, does the Minister agree that generally control through the use of predators has considerable ecological advantages compared with other methods of control? Can the Minister say how much agricultural research effort goes into control by the use of predators compared with research into the effectiveness of chemical pesticides?
Yes, my Lords. MAFF, the Forestry Commission and the AFRC are spending around £3 million this year on research into biological control of 391 pests and disease affecting agriculture and forestry in the UK. That includes work to enhance the activities of beneficial insects such as predatory ground beetles, parasitic wasps and other natural enemies. The research forms part of a much larger programme of integrated pest control which aims to reduce dependence on pesticides in farming and forestry.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the achievement of the Forestry Commission in introducing a certain beetle into this country without ill effects which feeds upon an enemy of certain coniferous trees? One result which your Lordships will appreciate at this time of the year is that there can be no shortage of Christmas trees.
My Lords, I was aware of that. Work by the Forestry Commission to control the great spruce bark beetle has shown that biological control can work but, if I may say so, it is a matter of horses for courses. Just because one insect works on one problem, does not mean that another insect will be the best approach on another.