'Don't touch' reminder as oak processionary caterpillar nests confirmed in Borough

02 July 2018

Please note: these pages contain archived information. Whilst the details were correct when first published, they may since have 'aged' and some of the information could be out-of-date.

Local residents and visitors to Woking are being reminded not to touch and report sightings of Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) caterpillars or their nests, following their discovery in Knaphill and Pyrford.

Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) caterpillars and their nests are a tree, human and animal health hazard. The caterpillars shed thousands of their tiny hairs in the nests which can cause itching skin rashes and eye irritations and, more rarely, breathing difficulties in people and animals.

The caterpillars are a tree pest because they eat oak leaves. Large numbers can strip oak trees bare, leaving them weakened and vulnerable to other threats.

The caterpillars build their distinctive white, silken, webbing nests and trails in June on the trunks and branches of oak trees, anywhere between ground level and many metres high. The nests become discoloured after several days, and harder to see as a result. They can also fall out of trees, creating a hazard to curious children and pets, and grazing livestock.

Sightings of either the caterpillars or their nests should be reported to the Forestry Commission's Tree Alert online form available from www.forestry.gov.uk/opm or by emailing opm@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

Alison Field, the Forestry Commission's South-East England Director, said: "We want to keep our woods, parks and gardens safe for everyone to enjoy, and the public can help us by reporting OPM nests and caterpillars to us.

"However, please don't try to remove the nests yourself. To be as effective and safe as possible, this job needs to be done by people with the right training and equipment, and the nests must be disposed of properly."

Cllr Beryl Hunwicks, Woking Borough Council's Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing, said: "Sadly, Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars are prevalent throughout London and are slowly spreading through the home counties, yet these sightings in Knaphill and Pyrford are the first within our Borough.

"Where the caterpillars or their nests are identified on public land, the Council is following Forestry Commission guidance to reduce the risk to public health where possible. In the meantime, as the caterpillars are most active during June and July, we strongly advise people not to touch or approach the nests or the caterpillars and also look after their pets.

"I would urge anyone who believes they have spotted the distinctive caterpillars or their nests on either public or private land, should contact the Forest Commission as soon as possible."

Anyone pruning or felling oak trees within the Borough should contact the Forestry Commission's Tree Health Unit beforehand on opm@forestry.gsi.gov.uk or 0300 067 4442 for advice about safe removal of the material.

Health advice is available from the "Insects that bite or sting" area of the NHS Choices website.

Sighting reports can be made with the Forestry Commission's Tree Alert on-line form available from www.forestry.gov.uk/opm or email opm@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

More information is available from the Council's website by visiting www.woking.gov.uk/environment/greeninf/tree/opm