A NEW grant will be launched this month to aid efforts to slow down the spread of oak processionary moth (OPM) as the UK enters the greatest risk period for the tree pest. 

The OPM Groups Grant will fund the surveying of oak trees within local communities in London and the South East, supporting efforts to "better understand the risks and appropriate management" of OPM. 

Launched by Defra and the Forestry Commission, it comes at the time when the caterpillars emerge and feed, potentially causing harm to both humans and trees.

READ MORE: Oak processionary moth: Extended buffer zones brought in to tackle spread

Andrew Hoppit, OPM project manager, said: “At this time of year, many of us enjoy being outdoors in green spaces of all kinds.

"If you live in London and the surrounding areas, it’s really important for you to be aware of the health risks posed by tree pests like oak processionary moth." 

First identified in London in 2006, the pest has since spread to some surrounding counties in the South East of England, with an extended buffer zone established in locations such as Ealing, Westminster, and Barnet earlier this year. 

OPM caterpillars feed on oak leaves and can make trees more vulnerable to attack by other pests and diseases, making them less able to withstand adverse weather conditions such as drought and floods. A government programme is in place to limit their spread from areas where they are present.

Over the last five years, £10 million has been invested into oak health, including the management of oak processionary moth, as well as research to develop control techniques and new policy responses.

The Forestry Commission runs an annual programme in place to tackle OPM, and works with partners to monitor, treat and research the pest, in order to slow the spread and reduce the intensity of the pest.

Forestry Journal: An expanded buffer zone came into effect earlier this year in a bid to slow down the spread of the pest An expanded buffer zone came into effect earlier this year in a bid to slow down the spread of the pest

Professor Nicola Spence, UK chief plant health officer, said: “Reporting any sightings of oak processionary moth to the Forestry Commission will help to protect people, minimise the pest’s spread and help ensure our precious oak trees remain a much loved feature of the landscape.

“The caterpillars and their nests can pose a health risk to the public because of their hairs. I would urge the public not to touch them, and for pets and livestock to be kept away.”

Any sightings should be reported to the Forestry Commission via the TreeAlert portal. Alternatively, you can email opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or call 0300 067 4442. 

How to identify oak processionary moth caterpillars

  • Nests are typically dome or teardrop-shaped, averaging the size of a tennis ball. They are white when fresh, but soon become discoloured and brown. The caterpillars have black heads and bodies covered in long white hairs which contain proteins which can cause itchy rashes, eye, and throat irritations. They can also occasionally cause breathing difficulties in people and pets, so should not be touched under any circumstances