THE Perthville Uniting Church had a big shock for residents, environmentalists and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) on Wednesday.
Inside the church, they were greeted with a powerful aroma and even more alarming sight.
The floor of the church was covered by tiny elm leaf beetles, as well as the pews, windowsills and other furniture throughout the building.
“We had a clean up last October and there was six of us here and it took us three hours,” property committee convener Brian Cowan said.
The beetles first started to appear within the church building in February, 2016 and have since reached “plague proportions”.
Mr Cowan said the infestation has become so bad that meetings of the congregation are now held in the hall a short distance away.
However, that too is starting to be infested.
Mr Cowan’s hoped that Wednesday’s meeting would help to rid the church of the problem.
“I’m hoping that this message might go out, that there might be some people in the community who know what to do,” he said.
Among those in attendance was Orange Agricultural Institute collections curator Peter Gillespie, an entomologist with more than 30 years experience.
He said he had never come across a situation like the one at Perthville in all his time working with insects.
He could not understand why they were in the church in such large proportions.
“They are harmless leaf eating beetles that would normally be happy outside, but for some reason they have chosen this house of God,” Mr Gillespie said.
“There must be some constraint maybe on the design, the location, the prevailing winds, who knows, I don’t really understand why they are here.”
Dr Ainsley Seago, a technical manager of insect collections from DPI, collected a sample of beetles from the church.
They will be tested for parasitoids.
Mr Gillespie inspected trees along the Vale Road across from the church while in Bathurst on Wednesday.
Egg masses from the beetles were found on some of the leaves.
When asked about the future of the trees, Mr Gillespie said there are methods to control the beetles, but there isn’t much people can do to change the appearance of the trees.
Bathurst Regional Council did not send a representative to the meeting.