By Allan Fuller
Wimbledon and Putney Commons have been managing control of a vicious introduced species of moth since 2011 and whilst numbers remained very low for a few years, survey teams are now finding an increasing number each year.
Keep your distance!
The caterpillars are a potential threat to the health of oak trees, people and animals and the Wimbledon and Putney Conservators advise that visitors to the Commons take particular care to ensure that contact with the caterpillars and their nests is avoided.
The caterpillars are covered in thousands of tiny hairs which contain an irritating substance called thaumetopoein and it is important that no skin contact is made with the caterpillars or nests as this can result in skin rashes and, less commonly, sore throats or breathing difficulties.
As the nests are not confined to specific areas, it is vital to remain vigilant for OPM when you visit the local Commons; do not let children climb Oak trees and also keep pets away as they can also be affected.
Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) Caterpillar is a tree pest which was accidentally introduced to a site in west London in 2005 through imported tree stock. Despite an extensive programme of control, OPM has unfortunately spread from its initial outbreak area to include many Greater London boroughs as well as Surrey and the Home Counties.
What should you do if you find some OPM caterpillars localy?
The advice from the Forestry Commission is to not approach or touch the nests or caterpillars and, in particular, keep children and pets away from the Oak trees. If you are able, do please keep a note of the location and advise the Ranger's Office by telephone - 020 8788 7655 or by e-mail.
OPM survey teams are continuing to work on the Commons and our fully trained staff will begin nest removal in busy areas this week once the caterpillars have started to pupate and form nests.
Discover all the vital work that the Wimbledon and Putney Conservators do, how you can become a Friend of the organisation, or even join over a hundred of the Volunteers who give their time to do vital work to preserve our vital local open spaces; check out the Wimbledon and Putney Conservators Website; www.wpcc.org.uk