BUFFER zones to tackle the spread of oak processionary moth (OPM) in England will be extended in March. 

Ealing, Westminster, and Barnet will be among those to come under the designation ahead of the caterpillars emerging in May and turning into adult moths. 

From March 1, Forestry Commission chiefs will also expand the Established Area in the south of the country to cover locations such as Crawley, Brighton, and Reading. 

READ MORE: Oak processionary moth: how to identify and report the tree pest

As well as the expanded areas, government officials have unveiled a new package of support for landowners, which will provide them with greater flexibility in managing OPM according to local circumstances and individual site risks, aided by two new forms of financial support. 

Nicola Spence, the UK Chief Plant Health Officer, said: "Oak processionary moth larvae can cause significant damage to oak trees and pose a risk to human and animal health.

"These new measures are designed to improve support to landowners, minimise the spread and impact of the pest and ensure our precious oak is retained in the landscape, as part of our wider tree health protection regime.

Forestry Journal: The expanded zones will come into effect from March 1 The expanded zones will come into effect from March 1

"Any sightings should be reported to the Forestry Commission via its TreeAlert online portal." 

OPM caterpillars and their nests contain hairs which can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritations, and should not be touched under any circumstances at any time.

The greatest risk period is May to July when the caterpillars emerge and feed before pupating into adult moths.

READ MORE: Oak processionary moth: luring the pest with pheromones

As OPM season begins in March, changes to the operational boundaries of the management zones – the Pest-Free Area, Buffer Zone, and Established Area – will be implemented to further restrict the spread of the pest.

For more, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/managing-oak-processionary-moth-in-england