Fears over threat to crops after stink bug discovery

A feared increase of a species of stink bug could become “problematic” for crops and gardens after one was found in Surrey, experts have warned.

The brown marmorated stink bug, native to Asia, gets its name from the foul smell it exudes when threatened and can grow up to 1.7cm.

After a lone bug was caught at RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Garden Wisley in a pheromone trap, there are now fears over the invasive species rising in population.

During the summer, the pests feast on fruits and vegetables by piercing the surface and sucking out the juice, distorting the produce and causing it to rot, it is warned.

They are also said to invade houses during the autumn and cause stains to curtains and carpets.

Invasive species are said to cost the UK economy more than £1.8 billion a year.

Dr Glen Powell, head of plant health at RHS Garden Wisley, said: “The installation of pheromone traps at our gardens enable us to study invasive species from their arrival in the UK through to potential colonisation.

“While there is currently no evidence of breeding we would expect the stink bug to grow in prevalence and it may become problematic in gardens during summer and homes in the winter months within five-10years.

“This isn’t a sudden invasion but potentially a gradual population build-up and spread, exacerbated by our warming world.

“The stink bug isn’t the first to land on our shores and won’t be the last, and understanding how we can best manage it is the next challenge for the research community supporting gardeners and commercial growers of fruit and vegetables.”

The pheromone trap – which releases the bugs’ naturally occurring scents to lure them to a sticky panel – is part of a project led by NIAB (East Malling) and funded by Defra.

Coronavirus – Thu May 7, 2020
The discovery was made at RHS Garden Wisley (Steve Parsons/PA)

It is not yet known how the bug made it to the UK or if the species is breeding locally, with the RHS suggesting there could be an undiscovered population.

It is thought the south east of England is the northern most limit for the bug’s potential range, although climate change means it could spread further.

Dr Michelle Fountain, head of pest and pathogen ecology at NIAB EMR, said: “Brown marmorated stink bug represents a significant threat to food production systems in the UK so it is crucial that we continue to monitor any establishment and spread of the pest.

“The long-term development of management and environmentally-sensitive control strategies will be needed so that the research community can keep industry and gardeners one step ahead of this pest species.”

There are more than 40 species of stink bugs, also known as shield bugs, already present in the UK, however most pose no threat to plant health and are not considered pests.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The brown marmorated stink bug is not a significant threat but as with all pests and diseases we will continue to monitor any threats closely.”