1. Neodiprion sertifer nucleopolyhedrovirus (NeseNPV) is widely used as a viral bio-insecticide against larvae of the European pine sawfly N. sertifer (Geoff.) (Hymenoptera: Diprionidae), which is one of the most harmful defoliators of pines in Northern Europe. A major obstacle to studying this pathogenic virus in nature is the difficulty of confirming and quantifying the presence of NeseNPV. 2. In the present study, we developed real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers, based on the caspid gene 39 sequence, for the specific and quantitative detection of NeseNPV. The quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assay can detect virus from any substrate tested, including different insect life stages (egg, larval, adult), pine foliage, and litter or ground vegetation. The reproducible detection limit for the real-time assay is 0.013 pg of viral DNA (0.013 × 10−12 g), corresponding to 136 viral genomes or approximately one to seven virus occlusion bodies per sample. 3. qPCR is a specific, quantitative, sensitive, reliable and flexible procedure, and is a good supplement to conventional microscopy- or bioassay-based methods for detection of the virus. We have used qPCR to quantify the level of NeseNPV in samples collected in the field after aerial application of the virus, and demonstrated significantly higher virus levels in sawfly larvae from sprayed areas compared with unsprayed control areas 4 weeks after spraying. 4. This qPCR assay can be used to determine important aspects of the biology of NeseNPV (e.g. virus levels in different insect life stages and in their microhabitats on pine foliage and in forest litter).