A group of forest owners has issued a strong warning of the potential for a “national disaster” should a “destructive” beetle enter the country.

The eight-toothed spruce bark beetle, Ips Typographus, which has caused widespread damage to forests across Europe, has so far not been found on the island of Ireland.

However, the Irish Forest Owners (IFO) group has said that if this pest should be allowed to gain entry through the importation of timber with bark on it, it would be a “national disaster” and would make the ash dieback emergency look simple.

Governments have issued advice stating that these kinds of beetles often tunnel into the bark of living trees to lay its eggs.

The larvae then feed and develop, forming galleries that weaken, and in some cases kill, the host tree.

In a statement, the IFO said: “As things stand, we import substantial quantities of logs with bark on for processing by Irish sawmills.

“Much of this timber comes from Scotland. Recently, the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle was discovered in Fife, on the east coast of Scotland and consequently there is an increased risk associated with the importation of those logs.”

Scottish Forestry has said, however, that its surveillance programme to check for pests and diseases in Scotland’s forests is proving a success.

This single finding of an Ips typographus beetle was located on a trap in a Fife woodland. Tree health experts believe it is most likely to have come in on the back of goods being shipped at Grangemouth.

Forest owners call for ban

The IFO said it wants to highlight the continued risks involved in the importation of logs that have not been debarked onto this island.

“We ask the Minister for Agriculture to take urgent action to deal with this increasing risk to protect the future of the forest industry in Ireland,” the group stated.

“Specifically, we suggest they liaise with their counterpart in Northern Ireland to adopt an all-Island approach to defend our Protected Zone Status against this and other bark beetle pests.

“Unless the department can absolutely guarantee that the inspections at ports throughout the island of Ireland are sufficient to prevent the important of the bark beetle, a ban on the importation of timber that is not bark-free must be issued.”

IFO said that all foresters, forest owners and other stakeholders are asked to be vigilant for unusual ill-health in trees or evidence of bark beetle and report any concerns to the department.