Hairy caterpillar warn­ing

Oak pro­ces­sion­ary moth nests con­sid­ered a haz­ard to hu­man, an­i­mal and tree health

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

The hairy lar­vae could cur­rently be build­ing its nests in oak trees in the south of the county and both the cat­ter­pil­lar and its home are con­sid­ered a tree, hu­man and an­i­mal health haz­ard.

Peo­ple are also be­ing ad­vised to pro­tect an­i­mals from con­tact with the nests, and to re­port sight­ings to the Forestry Com­mis­sion.

Oak pro­ces­sion­ary moth (OPM) cater­pil­lars shed thou­sands of their tiny hairs in the nests, and these can cause itch­ing skin rashes and eye ir­ri­ta­tions and, more rarely, breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in peo­ple and an­i­mals. The cater­pil­lars are con­sid­ered a tree pest be­cause they eat oak leaves: large num­bers can strip oak trees bare, leav­ing them weak­ened and vul­ner­a­ble to other threats.

The cater­pil­lars build their dis­tinc­tive white, silken, web­bing nests and trails in June on the trunks and branches of oak trees, any­where be­tween ground level and many me­tres high. The nests be­come dis­coloured af­ter sev­eral days, and harder to see as a re­sult. They can also fall out of trees, cre­at­ing a haz­ard to cu­ri­ous chil­dren and pets, and graz­ing live­stock.

Ali­son Field, the Forestry Com­mis­sion’s South-East Eng­land di­rec­tor, en­cour­aged lo­cal peo­ple to help tackle the pest by re­port­ing sight­ings of the nests and cater­pil­lars, but not to touch or ap­proach them.

“We want to keep our woods, parks and gar­dens safe for ev­ery­one to en­joy,” she said. “The pub­lic can help us by re­port­ing OPM nests and cater­pil­lars to us so that they can be prop­erly re­moved.

“How­ever, please don’t try to re­move the nests your­self. To be as ef­fec­tive and safe as pos­si­ble, this job needs to be timed just right and done by peo­ple with the right train­ing and equip­ment, and the nests must be dis­posed of prop­erly.”

Dr Deb­o­rah Tur­bitt, Lon­don deputy di­rec­tor of health pro­tec­tion for Pub­lic Health Eng­land, en­dorsed the ‘don’t touch’ mes­sage, adding: “We strongly ad­vise peo­ple not to touch or ap­proach the nests or the cater­pil­lars be­cause of the health risks, but to see a phar­ma­cist for re­lief from milder skin or eye ir­ri­ta­tions if they do come into con­tact. Con­sult a GP or NHS111 for more se­ri­ous re­ac­tions, and con­tact a vet if pets are badly af­fected.

“We have is­sued ad­vice to lo­cal GPs and health pro­fes­sion­als to help them iden­tify when pa­tients have been af­fected by con­tact with OPM hairs, and to ad­vise them on ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment.”

Sight­ing re­ports can be made with the Forestry Com­mis­sion’s Tree Alert on-line form avail­able from www. f ore s t r y . g ov. uk/ opm1, or by email to opm@forestry.gsi.gov.uk.

The nest of the oak pro­ces­sion­ary moth caterpillar

the nest as it be­gins to dis­in­te­grate

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