Desk review of burning and other management options for the control for heather beetle.
The heather beetle Lochmaea suturalis is a naturally occurring species in the heather dominated landscapes of the United Kingdom. When the heather beetle population density increases dramatically it can cause significant damage to heather plants. It has been suggested that burning heather outside the permitted heather-burning season will promote the regeneration of heather following heather beetle damage. There is also some discussion as to whether burning outside the permitted season might also help control heather beetle. For these reasons Natural England regularly receives applications for licences to burn outside the permitted season. However, burning at this time of year may have effects on a wide range of biodiversity. Therefore, Natural England commissioned this report, and (NEER008 - A desk review of the ecology of heather beetle) to ensure the best available evidence is being used. An extensive literature review was carried out to determine the effectiveness of burning and other management options in managing heather-dominated systems for the heather beetle Lochmaea suturalis. In general, the quantity of relevant studies was low, and the quality of most was also poor, with very low levels of replication and/or a lack of controls or comparators being very common. There are three potential ways that management could be used. The first way is to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks. There is currently no evidence that burning is useful for this, due to a lack of relevant studies. Other management options that could be considered to achieve this are biological control and drainage of wetter areas, as well as general moorland management such as mowing, rotovating and sod cutting. The second way that burning could be used is by burning infested areas to reduce the numbers of heather beetles present. There has been some discussion as to whether it would be necessary to do this outside the current burning season, but there is currently no reliable evidence available to show whether this is effective, nor a cost-benefit analysis to take account of the additional risks of burning during the summer months. This is again due to a total lack of relevant studies. Other management options at this stage are to use insecticides on the affected areas, but there are also risks associated with this and again there is a lack of evidence as to how effective it would be. The potential for biocontrol at this stage has also not yet been explored. The third way is in encouraging regeneration of damaged areas. The available evidence for this is generally poor quality, and there is some suggestion that management techniques other than burning might be more effective at encouraging regrowth. In addition, some sites have been observed to regenerate naturally, in the absence of management, so there is a question as to whether management is necessary. Some trials are currently under way in Scotland and the Peak District with the aim of determining which management techniques are best for restoring damaged heather, but again the level of replication and lack of control areas appears to be a problem. The following are recommended in order to be better able to advise managers in the future: * Management actions should be carefully monitored so as to establish the effects of decisions (including whether to burn out of season or not). This monitoring should use properly designed experiments with adequate levels of replication and control plots. The effectiveness of management in controlling heather beetles and the effects on biodiversity as a whole and on ecosystem functioning should all be recorded. * Further research should be undertaken into the relationship between the heather beetle and its natural enemies. * Further research should be undertaken into the other factors that might affect the likelihood of outbreaks occurring.