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Oaks attacked by wannabe procession moths

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Caterpillars of the oak procession moth are attempting to gain a foothold in London, the Telegraph reports.

As we recently reported, the Belgian army is battling a horde of the Thaumetopoea processionea caterpillars in the country's eastern province of Limburg.

The species has spread in recent years from its origins in central and southern Europe due to climate change, and last year appeared on several oak trees in West London, including in Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens. It's suspected they entered the country on imported trees.

The procession moth caterpillar, so called for its habit of advancing in column, deploys toxic hairs which can cause "severe skin irritation, breathing difficulties, and even anaphylactic shock". It can also completely defoliate trees, so Kew has moved quickly to contain the threat.

A spokesman explained: "About 30-35 oak trees had been affected and we have been exterminating the caterpillars as fast as they emerge but I am afraid this is not a problem that is going to disappear quickly. Our oaks have resisted many other diseases and we hope they are strong enough to resist this."

In Belgium, the army is tackling the irritating insects by burning the little blighters with "super-size blowtorches". UK operatives' method on dispatching them to the hereafter is not noted, but they have wisely donned protective clothing for their caterpillar-busting work.

The oak procession moth is, once established, extremely difficult to eradicate. Christine Tilbury, of the Forestry Commission's agency, Forest Research, admitted: "We are obviously concerned about it. The caterpillars stimulate a severe allergenic reaction in susceptible people. Where it has occurred on the Continent it has caused a severe skin rash and respiratory tract irritation. We would advise anyone in contact with it to get immediate medical advice."

Tilbury concluded by conceding that measures to contain or eliminate the oak procession moth might prove fruitless. She offered: "It could fly in or come in as eggs on plants. I do not know how you keep it out." ®

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