Italians in the southern region of Puglia reacted with anger when officials began to cut down olive trees there.
The trees, some centuries old, were sacrificed in an attempt to stop a deadly bacterium, xylella fastidiosa, which appears to have infected as many as one million olive trees in the region and could hit other parts of Italy and the Mediterranean.
Landowners and conservationists were outraged and gathered to shout “b*****di” and “assassin” at the Forestry Corps workers who were wielding chainsaws to cut the trees. The Corps is a national police service which focuses on environmental issues.
Among the placards, one read: “Stop the slaughter of the olive trees.”
After months of debate on how to tackle the crisis, authorities in Puglia ordered the trees to be cut down. Many more trees are to be cut down in the coming weeks.
Experts believe cutting down infected trees and burning them is the only way to stop the disease from spreading. The ground will be sprayed with insecticide.
The bacterium is spread by an insect, a species of frog hopper bug. It is thought to have arrived in Italy in a consignment of oleander plants which were brought in from Costa Rica.
So far it has infected olive trees in Puglia, an area rich in olive groves. Fears are high that it could spread northwards.
“Let’s not kid ourselves that we will find a solution any time soon against xylella fastidiosa. The Americans have been studying it for decades,” Dr Donato Boscia from the National Research Council told La Repubblica newspaper.
See information on Palm Tree Weevils: