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Public warned ‘do not touch under any circumstances’ as pest spreads in UK | UK | News

Public warned ‘do not touch under any circumstances’ as pest spreads in UK | UK | News

Everyone is being urged to be on the lookout for a caterpillar which causes throat and eye irritation and is spreading in the UK.

The public are being urged to be vigilant of any sightings of oak processionary moth caterpillars – but ‘do not touch under any circumstances’.

The distinctive furry caterpillars mass on trees, stripping oak trees of their foliage and leaving them open to diseases which can kill the tree entirely.

The caterpillars are mostly found in the South East of England having made the jump from Europe to London initially but they have been found as far away as Derbyshire too.

OPM caterpillars and their nests, which are made of distinctive white silken webbing,contain hairs that can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritation and should not be touched under any circumstances. 

The nests can be found in the trunk or branches of Oak trees, and fade to a light brown over time, the public are urged never to try and dispose of the nests themselves.

Andrew Hoppit, Oak Processionary Moth Project Manager at Forestry England, said: “It is important those living and working in areas affected by oak processionary moth remain vigilant about the health risks they pose, when enjoying outdoor spaces, as we are entering the greatest risk period.

“The Forestry Commission has a whole host of information online that can be used to identify the moth, simply visit managing oak processionary moth in England. If you spot the pest, report the sighting via our TreeAlert portal. Alternatively, you can email opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk.”

Professor Nicola Spence, UK Chief Plant Health Officer, said: “Oak trees are an iconic and much-loved part of our British landscape. By reporting any sightings of the oak processionary moth to the Forestry Commission, we can all minimise the pest’s spread as well as reduce their impact on tree health.

“I would advise that members of the public living in London, the surrounding areas and Derbyshire, avoid any contact with the caterpillar and its nests, as this can cause irritation.”

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