Thursday, July 25, 2024

Protect oak trees from predatory caterpillars, public urged

People are being urged to be vigilant for any sightings of oak processionary moth caterpillars, a tree pest which can strip oak trees of their foliage and leave them susceptible to disease.

The caterpillars – found mostly in South East England – descend oak trees in head-to-tail processionary form, occasionally taking the form of an arrow shape, earning them their name.  They feed on the leaves as they migrate causing the leaves to sometimes drop off which negatively impacts their growth. This can weaken the tree and leave it more vulnerable to other stresses, such as drought and further diseases.

The warning has been issued today by the Forestry Commission who are urging the public to report any sightings to the via the TreeAlert portal or by email to opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk.

Oak processionary moth was first identified in London in 2006 after being accidentally transported over from Europe in trees for planting. It has since spread to surrounding counties in the South East, and last July, a small outbreak of the caterpillars were found at a site designated free from the pest.

The caterpillars and their nests, 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, where they 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, 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.”

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