Defra and APHA issue warning after beetle larvae detected in Kent

An image of a potato beetle on a leaf

Photograph: Alamy

Vigilance is being urged after Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) confirmed the presence of Colorado potato beetle larvae in a crop of potatoes in Kent.

The agency is working closely with the grower to eradicate the pest from the field, including performing a 1km survey to determine whether there are further cases beyond the immediately infested area.

The presence of a single adult male beetle was also confirmed in a garden in Hampshire on Friday 14 July. The confirmation comes following a report made by a member of the public. APHA removed the beetle and will be conducting surveys in gardens, potato crops and land around the finding to ensure there are no other Colorado beetles present.

It is the first time an outbreak of the Leptinotarsa decemlineata beetle has been confirmed in the UK since 1977, although the beetle is now endemic in large parts of Europe.

The APHA describes the species as a significant threat to potato crops. Adults and larvae feed on the foliage of potato and other plants in the nightshade family and can completely strip them of their leaves if left uncontrolled.

“We are responding swiftly through our eradication programme, involving ground surveillance to look for beetles and larvae at the outbreak site and surrounding area,” said UK Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence.

“Whilst this pest does not pose a threat to human health, we encourage all growers, farmers, processors and the public to remain vigilant and report any sightings, especially in Kent.”

NFU horticulture and potatoes board chair Martin Emmett said: “While this find is concerning, it’s not clear yet if it is at the scale of being designated an ‘outbreak’, like it was in 1977. We also hope this finding is the result of some ‘hitchhikers’, and not a sign of shifting pest ranges as a result of climate change.”


The beetle is bright yellow or orange with black stripes and is usually 8.5-11.5mm in length and 3mm wide. Its larvae are a reddish brown in colour, round and globular, up to 15mm in length.

Although distinctive in appearance, there are several beetles that are frequently mistaken for them. A Defra factsheet to help with identification is available at: GOV.UK | Plant pest factsheet

Live Colorado potato are regularly intercepted, ‘hitch-hiking’ on leafy vegetables, salad leaves, fresh herbs and grains, as well as on potatoes, from continental Europe.

In the past 70 years, there have been two outbreaks of the pest in the UK, one in 1976 and one in 1977. Both were eradicated shortly after detection.

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