Warnings are being shared across the nation after an oak processionary moth has been identified by the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) in Derbyshire, over 150 miles outside the known London established area and surrounding counties.
Thaumetopoea processionea, more commonly known as oak processionary moth is an insect pest of oak trees, whose caterpillars notably colonise on trunks and large branches of oak trees, both forms present a threat to plant and human health.
A number of oak trees in the Long Eaton area of Derbyshire were confirmed to be infested with the oak processionary moth. The trees are currently being treated and surveillance is ongoing to direct appropriate measures to prevent a potential spread.
The caterpillars of the moth, typically found through spring and summer, until the end of July, feed on the leaves of several species of oak trees, stripping them of leaves, impacting their growth and leaving them vulnerable to further disease. For humans, the species can cause painfully irritable rashes and eye and throat infections.
Distinguishable by their black heads and grey bodies covered in long white hairs, the caterpillars typically moving in a nose-to-tail procession.
Their dome shape nests are made of distinctive white silken webbing that fades to a light brown. The Forestry Commission is encouraging members of the public, owners and managers to remain vigilant and report any sightings but warn against trying to remove the nests themselves.
Instead, the public are being asked to report sightings via the TreeAlert portal, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling 0300 067 4442 or, if a professional operator, by contacting your local plant health & seeds inspector.
Sally Cullimore, technical policy manager, at the Horticultural Trades Association, says: “Whilst control of this outbreak and communication are a top priority at present, this is also an opportunity to remind and reiterate the need for everyone to be aware of their responsibilities for plant and tree health and biosecurity.
“The impact of outbreaks can devastate businesses in sectors like ours, and we believe that there is scope and opportunity to work in partnership to investigate an indemnity or insurance scheme for business losses in no-fault outbreaks and the need for prioritisation of action on upholding biosecurity in known, but difficult to tackle areas, such as online sales and personal imports.”
The pest was originally found in London, but the radius has seen an expansion rate of 6km a year in suspected response to climate change, as the increase in temperature better replicates the species native home of the Mediterranean.
An eradication programme is currently under way in the region to trap the pest, with the Animal and Plant Health Agency investigating how the species came to be in Derbyshire.