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Health warnings issued over toxic caterpillars spotted in Slough

A warning has been given over a species of toxic caterpillar seen in Slough which can cause an array of health problems to people and pets.

The larva of oak processionary moths (OPM) can be found in boroughs across the South East of England including in Slough during late spring and early summer.

The caterpillars move about in nose-to-tail processions and can shed tiny hairs can cause skin and eye irritations, sore throats and breathing difficulties to people and animals who touch them.

Hairs can also be blown into contact by the wind.

The creepy crawlies, which feed on oak trees, originate in Southern Europe, and have been expanding northwards for the past 20 years due to the trade of live oak plants.

OPM, which can strip oak trees bare in large groups, were first accidentally introduced to Britain in 2005, almost certainly due to eggs being laid on oak plants imported from the continent.

The Forestry Commission warns people not to touch or approach the caterpillars or their nests, which are often filled with hairs and to seek medical advice if they come into contact with them.

A Slough Borough Council (SBC) spokeswoman told The Express that OPM have been in the town for a few years and that trees have been treated to protect against them  in the past with no problems.

She said the caterpillars are ‘nothing people need to be overly concerned about’ but still advised people keep an eye out for them.

“Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars are a hazard to tree, human and animal health — so spot and report them, but don't touch them,” she added.

Any sightings should be reported to the Forestry Commission on opm@forestry.gsi.gov.uk or 0300 067 4442.

Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/oakprocessionarymoth for details on identifying them and steps to take after finding them.

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