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Talkback: Oak processionary moth

Good for you, Pippa. We are too quick to kill things. Clearing out my late father-in-law's shed recently,I came across products to kill almost everything creeping, flying or crawling in the garden, plus every weed known to man. I got rid of all of them - carefully. I don't use anything like that and our garden does very well.


  • We live in France and these processionary caterpillars (oak and pine varieties) are a real issue for people with children and pets. Inadvertent contact with the caterpillar itself or their nests results in very painful skin irritation and can cause serious breathing difficulties if inhaled. The hairs which contain the chemical responsible are shed several times during the nesting stages and are active for years so don't touch old abandoned nests.

    The French have no compunction in burning nests off the trees, even spraying with chemicals from helicopters in public access woods and forests. With climate change they are now appearing in Southern England - let's see what the authorities do there.

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  • Good to hear that there are so many of us, past and present, who act similarly! But yes, these can be a serious problem as a pest to plants and as a hazard to humans too.....
  • My friend had a small dog die last year from these "pretty things". Sorry to say, if I see them I lop off the branch and burn them.
  • Just seen this blog and I know these caterpilars as I live in Spain - BEWARE! If a dog should sniff one, it is usually fatal or causes immense pain, dogs that try to bite them will bite their own tongues off with the pain, puppies are naturally inquisitive and have to be kept indoors or muzzled when the caterpilars parade. They are blind, and the hairs are triggered by a light sensitive patch, so actual contact is not necessary.
  • For goodness sake lets have a reality check here. Yes I quite agree we dont need to kill every flying crawling insect that our gardens harbour, there is a natural food chain out there that keeps a natural balance, and for some reason we have ended up on the top of it, so when something invades this country that puts our health and habitat in danger, something has to be done about it. The powers that be are not dealing with this problem, but passing the responsibility to other bodies and the individual to sort out. How irresponsible. Is this the same attitude that was applied to other invasive species eg hog weed, knotweed, dutch elm disease to mention a few,which cost millions of pounds per year to TRY and get under control. without sucess. Have these so called experts looked at the bigger picture. Apart from the ovious healt issues, consider the other knock on effects this pest could have: If this pest spreads to our national parks and gardens, the lands surrounding stately houses and castles, in these days of litigation, these places would have to be closed for safety reasons, at an enormous cost to the tourist trade, and the people who keep them. They say that the toxic hairs off these caterpillars infect our fruit and veg in our gardens, and we are not to eat them. So what about the food crops farmers grow if they are close by to a infestation. I presume that they would become inedible also, therfore causing food shortages,damaging livelihoods and the economy.With London expecting a large influx of people next year for the olympics it would be wise not to ignore this problem, Our NHS is stretched to the limit as it is , without having to treat unknown numbers of people that may suffer the effects of this poisonous caterpillar, because of the inability of the authorised bodies to decide and put in place a plan of action. On a final note, WHY are native trees of this country being imported? Do we not have good tree growers in Britain! I suspect this decision was down to money again, not common sense. Save a few pounds by importing, then spend millions trying to eradicate the pest and diseases that come with them. I always thought that there were very strict regs. in place to prevent plants entering the country that would cause these problems. Is this another body of people not doing there job properly. I am sorry if this comment offends some peoples over sensitive feeling towards a toxic caterpillar but they should read the report in another well known mag. to realize what a threat they are if left unchecked. As for Pippas comments, well they speak for themselves, for someone who is meant to be a pest and disease expert, and how to control or eradicate them, its laughable.
  • Pippa, there is a wonderful tale by the French entomologist Fabre, who was studying caterpillars of the related pine processionary in his garden. He watched a large clump move to and fro each day, until on 30 January 1896, he saw them crawl up the side of a large flower pot. On reaching the rim they processed around the circular track, until there was a perfect circle of them, all following the caterpillar ahead, and without any spearheading leader. At this point he swept the remaining caterpillars away so as to leave just enough to fit around the 1-metre diameter palm pot, and waited to see what would happen. He kept expecting them to show signs of giving up their relentless trek, and going off somewhere else in search of nourishment. He watched them for 7 days. They stopped at night, but then kept walking robotically again with sunrise. It was only exhaustion, hunger and thirst the week later that finally broke them and in bunches they fell or clambered down and off.
  • There are now these moths on Wimbledon Common where i like to jog and walk. Recently I have experienced a very itchy rash that covers much of my body as I jog or walk. I have also experienced swollen eyes. This is due to the oak processionally moth. We should be quick to kill these, they are a danger to humans and pets and they prevent people enjoying outdoor spaces.
  • pr1mr0sepr1mr0se Posts: 1,193

    Good grief!  surely we've gone beyond trying to find simple answers to everything?

    There was a time when every pest and disease was dealt with by chemical attack.  Bad for everyone, including the environment as a whole.  But to let the pendulum swing the other way and refuse to deal with a pest that causes serious health problems is, imo, a little naive.  We need a balance in all things - and that includes deciding whether or not we need to attack a pest  - and being pro-active if necessary.  (The essential word here is "necessary" - and I think that a serious pest renders it "necessary").

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