Residents warned of annual caterpillar pest
06/05/2014 12:22:00......Posted by Lynne Hale
The joys of spring – warmer days, birdsong and blooming flowers – are tempered by the annual emergence of a pair of nasty pests that can cause skin rashes, eye and throat irritation, and, in some cases, breathing difficulties.
The unwelcome guests are the oak processionary moth and the brown-tailed moth and, as they do at this time each year, their caterpillars are beginning to make their presence known.
The tiny hairs of the caterpillars contain a protein that can cause itchy skin rashes, eye and throat irritations and, occasionally, breathing difficulties in people and animals. The hairs can be blown on the wind, and left in their nests, in and under oak trees. The greatest risk period is May to July, although nests should not be approached at any time.
Previously affected areas of Croydon include Shirley, Ashburton and New Addington.
Residents are advised to keep children, pets and livestock away from the caterpillars and their nests, which can cause health problems, and to report any sightings.
Croydon Council, aided by land managers and the Forestry Commission, is tackling the pest with a carefully controlled programme of tree treatment and nest removal, which has resulted in a decline in reported sightings of nests over recent years.
Members of the public, gardeners, tree surgeons and grounds workers are asked to report any findings of the caterpillars or their nests. They should not, though, try to remove either; this is work requiring careful timing to be effective, and is most safely done by specially trained and equipped operators. Libraries in the areas that could be affected will be displaying warning notices, banners and literature.
Tony Brooks, the council’s director of environment, said: “We conducted a winter survey for the brown-tailed moth and, as a result, removed a number of nests. There have been isolated reports of the moth in New Addington but they’re a dramatic reduction in the numbers recorded in past years.
“We’ve started precautionary spraying for the processionary moth caterpillar in areas in which it has previously been found – Shirley and Ashburton – and we’re about to undertake a survey of those areas to ascertain if a problem’s likely this year.
“Anybody who sees nests or caterpillars should report them to us, on 020 8726 6200, or the Forestry Commission, so that they can be dealt with properly.”
Anybody with a mild skin or eye irritation following possible contact should speak to their local pharmacist. Those with more serious reactions should consult a GP or call NHS 111. Contact a vet if pets are affected.
Sighting reports can be sent to the council, or to the Forestry Commission via its Tree Alert app or online form available at www.forestry.gov.uk/opm, or by email to email@example.com.
Health advice is available from the “Insects that bite or sting” area of www.nhs.uk/livewell.
Working on oak trees – Anyone having oak trees pruned or felled in the affected areas must contact the Forestry Commission’s plant health service beforehand on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0300 067 5155 for advice about safe removal of the material.
Further information is available from www.forestry.gov.uk/opm.
Images can be previewed on the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/pictures using "oak processionary" in the search facility, and requested from email@example.com; telephone 0300 067 5043.