There have been sightings in Banstead Woods of the oak processionary moth, the extremely destructive moth caterpillars which can strip a tree of its leaves, leaving it weakened, vulnerable, even killing once healthy oak trees.
The Forestry Commission has been conducting regular checks of trees in Croydon for several years, in case of its spread to the borough’s parks and woodlands – though even if it is discovered, there’s little that the authorities can do to eradicate the voracious pest beyond donning haz-chem clothing and destroying the infested trees.
Our warming climate is blamed for the advance of the oak processionary moth, which is believed to have been brought into England through imported samplings from the Netherlands.
The Royal Horticultural Society describes the oak processionary moth as “native to southern Europe that has become established in parts of London and its surrounds.
“Whilst it can defoliate oak trees the primary concern is the caterpillars’ hairs, these can cause irritation if in contact with human skin. The caterpillars should not be handled or approached.”
With the sightings in Banstead Woods, Reigate and Banstead Council is aware and has been tasked with taking action to deal with the threat.
The caterpillar’s most distinctive feature is its habit of travelling in numbers nose-to-tail in a procession (hence its name).
If you suspect that you have sighted them within the woods you should report your sighting and location to the land owner.
The various environmental volunteer groups have also been alerted and will be keeping a sharp look out. One volunteer said today, “Please be vigilant while still continuing to enjoy the woodland.”
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