The soft-fruit sector is leading a co-ordinated industry response to ward off the potentially devastating effects of a new fruit fly.

Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) originated in Japan, but reached southern Europe in 2008 and was found in small numbers in the UK in August 2012. So far it has only been found in wild hedgerows and in very small quantities on commercial farms in southern England, but experts fear it could spread across the country.

SWD damages the crop, rendering it unsaleable, though it is understood not to be dangerous to human health. Soft fruit, currants, cherries and table grapes are all particularly vulnerable to the pest, which has caused significant damage in North America.

An unprecedented collaborative effort involving representatives of 12 bodies ranging from HDC and East Malling Research to the Chemical Regulation Directorate, led by British Summer Fruits (BSF).

BSF is now spending £70,000 to fund an industry-facing publicity drive under the name ‘Spot It Stop It’ in a bid to raise awareness prior to the British season and limit potential crop losses.

The initiative includes three national workshops aimed at growers, packhouse staff and agronomists, as well as videos and webcasts for those unable to attend.

Growers and packers will be given best-practice advice on how to minimise risk, prevent spreading SWD and what to do if the pest is found.

“When the fly first appeared in other countries, growers were unfortunately not prepared and really suffered as a result,” said British Summer Fruits chairman Laurence Olins. “The UK industry has anticipated its arrival and is getting growers ready early to minimise any potential impact on UK soft and stonefruit crops.”

Olins stressed that the level of collaboration among the different bodies is almost unprecedented. Although he added there will be an inevitable cost to growers, this should be small in comparison with the potential crop losses if SWD was to take hold.