If you are going to be out walking your dogs around the South-East of England in the coming weeks, you need to be on the look out for a dangerous creepy-crawly. The caterpillars of the Oak Processionary Moth pose a danger to human and animal health - and they could be coming to an area near you!
The caterpillars emerge in oak trees in the spring and early summer, and descend down in nose-to-tail lines, hence their name. They are an invading force, accidentally introduced to UK in 2005 - the moth is a native species of southern Europe. Contact with the caterpillars' toxic and unusually long white hairs can cause skin rashes, eye irritation, sore throats, and even breathing difficulties.
The advice is to keep everyone - adults, children, dogs - well away from the little beasts. You can report sightings here.
A spokesperson for the Forestry Commission said, "We don’t want to raise unnecessary alarm, but we do want to raise awareness so that people in the affected areas can take steps to minimise the hazard to themselves and their animals. The caterpillars become large enough and descend low enough in the oak trees to be recognisable by the public about the second week of May."
The affected or possibly affected local authority areas are:
In Surrey: Elmbridge, Epsom & Ewell, Guildford, Spelthorne and Woking
In Berkshire: West Berkshire, Windsor & Maidenhead
In Buckinghamshire: South Buckinghamshire
In London: Brent, Bromley, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Harrow, Hillingdon, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston Upon Thames, Lambeth, Lewisham, City of London, Merton, Newham, Richmond Upon Thames, Slough, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Waltham Forest, and City of Westminster
Featured image courtesy of the Forestry Commission.