Infestation of toxic caterpillars in Welwyn Garden City

A PLAGUE of hairy toxic caterpillars which can cause respiratory problems and rashes have infested Welwyn Garden City, sparking health fears.

The invasion of brown tail moth caterpillars is “dangerous” according to one resident, the larvae have up to two million detachable hairs which can float on the air and cause severe allergic reactions.

Sam Judge, of Forresters Drive, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “All the trees in our street were full of them and it took a week for the council to come and cut them down.

“They’ve now infested the bushes – there are hundreds of thousands of them.

“They’re quite toxic and they’ve got these hairs on them which are bad for asthma.”

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Sam added: “They’ve started to get into people’s houses and cars – they’re all over the place.”

And thick webbing has also been deposited on bushes in the Panshanger area.

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The wriggly critters are usually only native to the south coast, but in recent years have spread further north because of warm weather.

A spokeswoman for Welwyn Hatfield Council said: “We are experiencing outbreaks of brown tail moths at a number of locations in the borough.

“The council’s landscape and ecology team has been tackling the problem where it occurs in trees and shrubs in public places, by cutting out the moths’ silken tents, spun by their larvae on the trees and shrubs where they’re feeding, and carefully destroying and disposing of them.”

She added: “Unfortunately, we also had to remove five trees last year in Poppyfields where extensive colonies caused severe damage.

“The brown tail moth is not, at present, a notifiable pest so we cannot treat outbreaks on private property, only on public hedges and trees, where we have responsibility.”

She also conceded that brown tail moth infestations are “a growing problem”.

A report by the Forestry Commission said: “Direct contact, especially with the larger larvae, produces the most extreme reactions because large numbers of hairs break off.

“In addition, the hairs are small enough to drift on the wind, thus affecting others not in direct contact with the larvae.

“Reactions include skin rashes and irritation, conjunctivitis and asthma attacks.

“Hairs can embed themselves in clothing leading to further sources of irritation.

“Repeated exposure can give rise to hypersensitivity and the necessity for hospital treatment.”

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