Fears Leicestershire's conkers contest could take a bashing
Conkers fans are worried their sport might take a bashing this year as warm weather and parasites threaten to spoil their horse chestnuts ahead of an annual competition.
The Vale of Belvoir Conker Championships have been held in Long Clawson since 1983, with about 200 people turning up every year to try to pulverise the opposition.
Organiser Mike Dickson
But this year, warm weather and the impact of damaging larvae have resulted in horse chestnut trees in the village producing their nuts earlier than expected.
Competition nuts must come from village trees, so it means the contest's conkers could have dried out by the time the tournament starts on October 18.
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In an attempt to save the contest, the nuts have been picked early and are being kept in organiser Mike Dickson's garage, where it is hoped the cool and damp conditions will keep them at tournament quality.
Another problem is that the nuts are slightly underdeveloped – depleting their smash power.
"For some reason they're smaller than usual," said Mike, of Long Clawson, "So it's going to be difficult to find championship quality conkers for all our competitors."
Horse chestnut trees normally produce fruit between mid-August and the end of October.
Dr Kate Lewthwaite, manager of the Natures Calendar Project at the Woodland Trust, said: "The warmer conditions have sped up the development and the fruit has been produced a few weeks early.
"Another factor may be the introduction of leaf miner – tiny larvae which eat away at the leaves of the horse chestnut.
"If the leaves are dying then the tree can't feed it's fruit, causing it to drop them earlier."
The larvae eventually become moths which fly to the top of the tree to lay their eggs and the cycle starts again.
Dr Lewthwaite said leaf miner had only been in the country since 2002 and the extent of their potential damage was yet to be determined.
Robin "Prince Conker" Bailey, of Long Clawson, won the competition in 1984.
He said: "It's been worrying me a bit. It would be a shame if it didn't go ahead.
"This competition means a lot to people in Long Clawson."
The tournament is to take place at Long Clawson village hall, in Back Lane.
BBC sports commentator Ivan Gaskell and village hall committee member Bryan Lovegrave will compere the event.
Entrants can register at the village hall, at 11.30am, on October 18.