Back to school. The rise of the toxic caterpillar in London and beyond

Their breeding ground was initially London but now the oak processionary moth is responsible for causing severe allergic reactions and asthma attacks further afield as they spread in large numbers outside of the capital.

The larvae of the oak processionary moth sheds long white toxic hairs which cause a number of alarming health problems including skin and eye irritations, sore throats, skin blistering, breathing difficulties and asthma. In Europe predators keep down these poisonous pests but in England there are no such predators and so the caterpillars have spread outside the M25. A government report warns they are set to spread ‘further and further breeding in much of England and Wales’.

“In the last few months we have received several calls from primary schools in the south of London where the oak processionary moth at caterpillar stage has become a very real problem. Pupils as young as five have suffered asthma attacks, skin burns and rashes. Our first step is to undertake a technician inspection of the infested trees before determining the treatment required and its extent,” says Ralph Izod.

“What I will say is that this is a job only a specialist pest control company should undertake. Even when fully protected with breathing apparatus and protective clothing a technician can still suffer symptoms from the stray hairs of the caterpillar. What happens is that when pupating, the caterpillars build silken sacks, the size of a football. The hairs from the sack blow in the wind so a child for example does not have to come into contact with the caterpillars to suffer unpleasant symptoms which may require hospitalisation depending on their severity.”

“Because of the close proximity of the schools we have been treating, we have witnessed firsthand how an infestation can spread from one oak tree to another and from one school to another. In the spring and early summer the caterpillars are at their most prevalent and can strip the leaves from an oak tree in a few days.”

If you suspect an infestation on trees in the grounds of the buildings you manage, lease or own, please contact us to arrange a technician inspection. This is usually undertaken at no cost. Don’t touch them, examine them or attempt to get rid of them.