Termites In North Devon. (Update 26.04.2000)

No Dumping of Termite Soil in Sea. [(the following was taken from the North Devon Journal, Thursday April 20, 2000].

The possibility of dumping soil at sea from a building plot near Britain's only known termite colony has been quashed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Architects involved in building a house and swimming pool at Saunton, within the 500 metre termite control zone, have been told that only material from below the high water line can be disposed of in that way. They are now looking at other options of dealing with the excavated waste which could be dumped off site if experts confirm there is no evidence of the wood eating pests. Architect Jonathan Rhind explained: 'It may be at a registered tip of some description.

We don't want the termites to spread and we are working to try to ensure that the termites are prevented from breeding on this or any other ground.' They plan to minimise the amount of excavation by placing steel sheets in the ground around the area to be dug. Planning permission has been given for demolishing the existing chalet bungalow and building a replacement home and swimming pool. The plot is just two properties from the two bungalows so far infested by termites and although there is no evidence to suggest the insects have spread, experts are taking no risks. 

The Forestry Commission is awaiting further details from the architects before authorising removal of any soil or vegetable material from the site. Roddie Burgess, Forestry Commission head of plant health, feels fumigation is one suitable method of  getting rid of any potential termites. ' My only interest is to ensure that whatever method is employed is effective in making sure there is no risk of spreading termites'. Although he insisted there was no evidence of the infestation having spread from the initial two properties, a control zone had been defined as a 'precautionary measure'.  Mr. Burgess added: 'The possibility of them being at Windyridge is remote but we don't want to prejudice the overall programme.' A letter he sent to the architects and copied to North Devon District Council stated that 'physical treatment' would not be required on the site if there was sufficient evidence to show the existing property and grounds remained free from the pests. But, any authorisation to remove soil and material would depend on ongoing surveys throughout demolition and on nothing being found to suggest termite activity or damage. The insects first appeared at Saunton five years ago and a £190,000 Government programme was set up to wipe them out.
[My thanks to David Ifold for updating us].


The following has been put together from numerous reports on local television and from local papers.Termites were first noticed in Devon almost six years ago by timber treatment company McCoy-Hill. They were asked to inspect a modern luxury bungalow called The Brambles at Saunton, North Devon.

Termites were found in the property and it was later treated in an attempt to eradicate them. At the time it was thought that they arrived in a pot plant brought back from the Canaries. I have yet to hear anyone name what species they are. Two years later the termites re-appeared in the same building. The owner lives in Dorset and in an attempt to reach the termites, the floorboards were lifted and the internal walls which were made of plasterboard nailed to wooden battens were opened up. The bungalow was left in an uninhabitable state and was featured several times on local BBC television.

An appeal was made to central government in late 97(?) for help to destroy the colony. Last year, government funding of £190,000 ws announced to eradicate the colony and to monitor the surrounding area. A team from Imperial College is dealing with the infestation. A special licence has been given to allow the use of an insecticide not normally available to timber treatment companies in the UK. Termites are one of the most tolerant of insects to available poisons!  Feeding stations have been set up in the local gardens in an attempt to slowly poison the colony.

Apparently, there is concern that a sudden large dose of poison might make the colony move?  The area is being monitored by the use of large numbers of wooden stakes driven into the ground. It is known that a second property was attacked by termites last year and that one tatty winged termite was found. Experts still insist that everything is under control and there is no chance of the colony spreading further! They insist that the special local microclimate will restrict the spread and anyway, it has not been warm enough. It is my personal belief that the microclimate in Saunton is not unique.

The bungalow is sited 200 metres from the coast at the base of a slope facing SW. The gardens rarely experience frost. There are many similar locations. My own garden four miles from the introduction site( four miles as the termite flies! ) only gets about six frosts per year.  I believe there is a possibility that other colonies will appear either as a direct result of spread or further similar introductions.

As I write this, there is a feature on Radio 4 about Formosan Termites introduced to New Orleans thirty years ago.  In America, they readily concede that termites will never be exterminated.  Over there, between $200-$300 million of damage is done to property each year.  Apparently termite infestations in America are sometimes only noticed when heavy items of furniture sink through the floor!  Only time will tell if further colonies exist in the UK.

David Ifold. 14.04.99.