Birch Trees Beset by Bugs

Scolioneura betuleti sawfly larvae in birch leaf.

Birch trees in the Reykjavík capital area are struggling following two waves of pests this spring and summer. While the trees made a comeback after moth larvae ate their way through new growth in the spring, they were soon beset by another hungry creature. Sawfly larvae, first spotted in Iceland in 2017, have done a number on local birch this summer, leaving behind brown leaves on many trees in the capital area.

“Many have noticed that the birch trees in our gardens are not doing well,” a press release from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History reads. According to the press release, Eriocrania unimaculella, moth larvae that mine birch leaves, ravaged the trees this spring. “In the short term, the trees managed to regain their foliage,” the release continues, “but a new pest has emerged which is greying the new leaves.”

The new pest is the larvae of the Scolioneura betuleti sawfly. The larvae was first spotted in Iceland in 2017, though it is not known when it first arrived in the country. Experts had noticed, however, damage to birch trees in late summer for several years prior which was similar to moth larvae damage in the spring. It was hypothesised that a second generation of moth larvae was to blame, but it has now been established that sawfly larvae is the culprit.

Scolioneura betuleti larvae behave similarly to Eriocrania unimaculella larvae, though they are not related. The sawfly lays its eggs in birch leaves in midsummer. Larvae live in and eat the leaf tissue, which is known as “mining” the leaves. The pests’ one-two punch can make it difficult for birch to grow healthy foliage all summer, “which will probably reduce the growth of the trees, seed ripening, and necessary preparation for the winter months.”

According to experts, green alder shrubs (Alnus viridis), a relative of birch common in Reykjavík gardens, may also be at risk from the Scolioneura betuleti larvae.

City Council Considers Cutting Meat from School Cafeterias

Reykjavík Housekeeping School Kitchen

Reykjavík City Council is considering reducing or eliminating meat in the city’s school and municipal cafeterias, RÚV reports. City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the move would be in line with the city’s goals to reduce its environmental impact. An open letter from the Icelandic Vegan Society calling for the elimination of animal products on school menus has city councillors, parents, and farmers debating what’s best for the environment – and children’s health.

Vegans call for change

The Icelandic Vegan Society published an open letter last week addressed to Iceland’s Minister for the Environment, as well as the government and local councils across the country calling for eliminating or significantly reducing animal-based products on school menus in light of their impact on the environment. “Agriculture accounts for 13% of Iceland’s emissions,” the letter reads. “About 50% of these agricultural emissions are methane emissions due to animal farming, and methane gas is a greenhouse gas 25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.”

Council considers

City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the council is considering significantly reducing animal-based products in Reykjavík’s primary school cafeterias. Lif, who represents the Left Green Movement, also sits on the City’s School and Leisure Committee, says the move is in line with the city’s climate action plan. “I think it makes sense and I think it’s clear to everyone that we plan to take some action,” Lif stated. “We adopted a food policy last term that we are implementing now and we are going to review the climate action plan and this fits in with that very well.”

Lif says primary schools cafeteria menus were updated a few years ago, and their staples are currently vegetables, fruit, and milk, offering fish twice weekly and meat once or twice per week. “It’s very unanimous in this majority to look at these issues comprehensively and secure the resources needed to truly implement what we have agreed upon and is good for people and the environment.”

Opposition councillor Eyþór Arnalds of the Independence Party does not agree with Lif. In a Facebook post about the matter, he stressed the importance of eating local food and saying “fish and meat in Iceland is in a class of its own. No, if left-wing members of the city council want to lessen their carbon footprint, it would be appropriate for them the start with themselves. But let our children have good and varied food.”

Vegetables and variety

Hólmfríður Þorgeirsdóttir, a nutritional specialist at the Directorate of Health, also emphasised the importance of a varied diet when asked about the menu changes. “It’s quite possible to put together a menu without meat and then increase milk, eggs, and fish. But the more foods are excluded the more difficult this becomes,” she stated. “Increasing plant-based products is positive, both in terms of health and environmental issues and in accordance with the directorate’s recommendations.”