‘Fart bugs’ spotted in UK sparking fears they could wreak havoc on food crops

Britain's fruit and veg is at risk from a foul-smelling Chinese creepy-crawly called a stink bug which has turned up 5,000 miles from home – in Surrey.

The brown marmorated (corr) stink bug gets its name from a pungent odour it gives off when it feels threatened.

Native to caves in China, Japan and Korea experts were stunned when one turned up at the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Wisley, near Woking.

The 1.7cm-long bug – the first of its kind to appear in the UK – poses a significant threat to food production, according to insect experts.

They like to pierce the surface of fruit and vegetables then suck out the juice inside causing it to rot.

Wine has gone rancid after the bugs have attacked grapes. In houses – which they invade in the autumn – they stain curtains and carpets and leave a foul stench. Experts are working out how to control an invasion of the critters.

Invasive species cost the UK economy £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 to 10 years.

"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.''

Experts do not know how the bug made it to the UK but fear it could be part of a previously undiscovered population. It got caught in a pheromone trap which releases insects' naturally occurring scents to lure them to a sticky panel.

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Dr Michelle Fountain, head of pest and pathogen ecology at horticultural researcher 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.''

Natural History Museum entomologist Max Barclay said: "If you eat a damaged fruit there's no risk to your health.

"The fruit just doesn't look beautiful so the sale value is reduced. These fruits usually end up as juice.

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"If you have a bunch of grapes that contain stink bugs and you grind them up into wine you get the smell of stink bugs in the drink and people don't like that.

"One of the reasons stink bugs are considered pests is because they cluster around window frames in large numbers and leave droppings.

"If you try and sweep them away they will produce these unpleasant-smelling oils which will stain the furniture. If the oil gets on your fingers it's really hard to remove.''

A Defra spokesman said: `As with all pests and diseases we will continue to monitor any threats closely.''

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