With Europe at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it is ironic that the Trustees of Chislehurst Commons are having to consider the implications of some unwanted visitors from the continent.
The Oak Processionary Moth, which is native to southern Europe, has been found nesting on oak trees in London and elsewhere in the UK. The caterpillars are considered hazardous, not just to the trees, but to animals and humans. They shed hairs which can be an irritant to the skin and in some cases can cause sore throats and breathing problems.
This particular species of moth is a notifiable pest which means that any sightings must be reported to the Forestry Commission, which is acting to control the outbreak. There has been confirmed cases in Beckenham, Greenwich and in other Royal Parks in London.
The moth gets its name because at night the caterpillars form a procession to the end of the oak branches and can strip a tree of its leaves, leaving it vulnerable to other pests and diseases. The caterpillar is distinctive from other species of moth because it builds silken webbed nests on the trunks and branches of oak trees.
Although there have been no confirmed cases in Chislehurst, a local dog walker experienced an unusual rash after walking on the Commons and her GP confirmed that it was likely to have been caused by the processionary moth.
The Keepers have been advised by the Forestry Commission on how to proceed if there is an outbreak on the Commons. They are now monitoring the situation in conjunction with the National Trust Ranger, Sam Pettman.
Head Keeper Jonathan Harvie stresses that there is no cause for concern unless you come into close contact with one of the nests. Any suspected sightings should be reported to the Trustees of the Commons.