Oak trees at your block? Don’t touch the caterpillars!

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These caterpillars may seem cute – but they’re nastier than they look

And now for something completely different… does your block have oak trees in the garden? Property managers, contractors and residents, especially in London and the South East are being asked to report any sightings of Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars to the Forestry Commission and – most important – not to touch them!

Oak Processionary Moth was first identified in 2006. The caterpillars damage oak trees, and their hairs which are also found in OPM nests, can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritations. So a Government programme is in place to limit their spread. They can also occasionally cause breathing difficulties in people and pets, so they should not be handled no matter how cuddly they may look!

The Forestry Commission, councils, and land managers have an annual programme in place to tackle the pest, which affects certain parts of the country in the spring.

What to look out for

Nests are typically dome or teardrop-shaped and about the size of a tennis ball. They are white when fresh, but soon go brown. The caterpillars have black heads and their bodies are covered in long white hairs. From May to July the caterpillars emerge and feed on oak leaves which can make the trees vulnerable to other pests and diseases and drought.

Anyone with infested trees in the control zone monitored by the Forestry Commission will have been advised that work needs to take place over the next two months to help stop the spread of this pest. Contractors spraying affected trees on behalf of the Forestry Commission will carry out work safely, adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Everyone is reminded, particularly those in London and the surrounding counties to report sightings of OPM caterpillars, which could be damaging oak trees in their area, to the Forestry Commission via TreeAlert. Alternatively, you can email opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or call 0300 067 4442.

Building owners or property managers considering pruning or felling oak trees in the affected areas should contact Forestry Commission England’s Plant Health Forestry Team beforehand on opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or 0300 067 4442 for advice about safe removal of the material.

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