Suffolk: Moths blamed for county’s tiny conkers

IT has been played out in playgrounds and gardens for generations.

But the traditional game of conkers could be under threat after a dramatic drop in the size and number of Suffolk horse chestnuts.

Conkers in many trees are said to be half the size of regular specimens with experts claiming the spread of the leaf miner moth, whose larvae chew through leaves, and wet weather could be to blame.

Some keen conker players have now even resorted to public appeals in a bid to track down suitably sized nuts to knock together.

Adrian Batstone, who together with his wife Siggi runs Ye Olde Bell and Steelyard, will host the 4th Woodbridge Inter Pub Conker Contest on Sunday.

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But, for the first time Mr Batstone has been forced to appeal for conkers.

He said: “We usually have hundreds of conkers,” he said. “However so far the ones we’ve found are small and diseased.

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“We have people out and about, searching far and wide for some big, shiny ones.

“There are still five days to go so I’m confident it will still go ahead – there will be a lot of people disappointed if it doesn’t.”

Bernie Ruffles, landlord of the Fox and Hounds in Thurston, which is due to host the West Suffolk CAMRA Conker Championship on Sunday, said it would be “a real shame” if the traditional pursuit dies out.

“I know that there is not as many conkers about this year. Our man who finds them will be looking all day, every day for them to make sure our championship goes ahead.”

He added: “At least if the conkers are smaller they’ll be harder to hit.”

Reg Harris, director of arboriculture at Bury St Edmunds-based Urban Forestry, said moth larvae were eating the chlorophyll in the county’s horse chestnut trees which reduces their ability to capture sunlight and turn it into food and seeds.

“Over the years we have seen the seeds get smaller and lighter. Long term it could mean the seed actually becomes unviable and it won’t produce trees.”

A recent study by the University of Reading and Bartlett Tree Research revealed that conkers from moth infested trees weighed an average of 4.2g compared with just over 8g for ones from the healthy trees.

But Mr Harris, who said the moth first arrived in the UK about eight years ago, said the death of the conker was the worst case scenario.

Neil Jarvis of the forestry commission, based at Santon Downham, Brandon, said weather had also been “one of many factors” that had reduced the size and number of conkers.

“I would imagine the hours of sunlight have been reduced and there has been lots of rain.”

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