HL Deb 19 July 1999 vol 604 cc656-7

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Blandford fly has spread from its original habitat.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Simulium posticatum, which is commonly known as the Blandford fly, has very exact habitat requirements. Its range has remained constant.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that information. However, it is not the same information that I have received. Is the noble Lord aware that I previously asked this Question in 1989 and that in those 10 years North Dorset District Council has spent over £400,000 on research with the University of Southampton into this extremely unpleasant fly? It is very small but when you get bitten this results in blistering and aching joints. Indeed, since I retabled the Question, I understand from a number of noble Lords that they have been bitten by a similar fly, which is also to be found by fast-flowing rivers in other parts of the country.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the information I have in relation to north Dorset in particular is that the number of such incidents has fallen very dramatically since the noble Baroness tabled the original Question about 10 years ago. Indeed, there has been a very substantial programme to limit the number of larvae produced, estimated to have brought about a reduction of about 90 per cent. Moreover, the number of medical incidents has fallen from 400 at the time of the original Question to around 45 last year. Therefore, in what is the main concentration area for this fly—namely, the river Stour in Dorset—there has been a very dramatic cut in such incidents. Of course, there are other blackfly of an entirely different species around the country, which I suspect is what noble Lords have encountered. However, the Blandford fly is being well dealt with in Dorset.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the report that Highland midges have moved south, and, indeed, have gone over the Border into England? Does the noble Lord think that this is due to global warming or results from their distaste for devolution with the connected prospect of fewer English tourist visitors upon whom to feed?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I could not possibly comment on the motives of the Scottish Highland midge, which is some way away and, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, has not yet reached Dorset. If that particular Scottish pest is heading south. it would suggest that climatic rather than political changes account for such movement.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Blandford fly is the same as the Scottish Clegg? Further, does he agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, does not look a day older than when she first raised this Question?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree absolutely with the second question of the noble Baroness. As regards her first question, I believe that that fly is a separate species. However, should further biological information come my way, I shall inform the noble Baroness.

Lord McNair

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether this problem has arisen since the 1960s? I was at school in Blandford and I used to canoe regularly on the Stour but I do not remember being bitten.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord may well have been canoeing extremely fast along the river because, up until the late 1980s, there was an increasing number of incidents. That is why the local authorities and the health authorities had to take such action. This fly is concentrated in the more slow-moving parts of the river Stour. I believe that it was a pest for some time before the noble Baroness tabled the original Question.