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As conker season starts, scientists try to conquer canker

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 10, 2012

Twins Josh and Nick Loader enjoy a game of conkers in French Weir Park, Taunton

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As children begin to thread conkers on string and a Somerset pub prepares to host its annual contest, scientists are working hard to save horse chestnut trees from the ravages of two serious pests.

The horse chestnut leaf miner moth, an invader from the Balkans, is one of the targets. First reported in the UK in 1986, its caterpillars live inside the leaves, weakening entire trees and causing serious damage.

Meanwhile a fungal disease, bleeding canker, is attacking the trees from below.

Last year, Bristol University launched a mobile phone program to enlist the public in identifying the scale of the moth problem and the Conker Tree Science website, which includes work by experts at Bristol, is harnessing observant adults and schoolchildren to help in its research, which has resulted in tiny parasitic wasps being used to help fight the aliens.

But no reports of doom and gloom will stop the New Inn at Wedmore from hosting its contest, which starts at 8pm on Friday.

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