Concern voiced over potential impact of oak processionary moth spraying

The Forestry Commission and a local authority have been criticised for providing inadequate information to the public on the spraying programme against oak processionary moth (OPM).

Oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) caterpillars - image:Kleuske
Oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) caterpillars - image:Kleuske

Spraying to control the tree pest, whose tiny hairs are an irritant to humans and pets, is due to start shortly at Sulham Woods near Pangbourne, Berkshire, which is managed by the Forestry Commission.

But Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Reading West Victoria Groulef said: "We need reassurances that the chemicals used are not harmful to health, and we need plenty of notice for the people who live nearby. Simply putting up a few signs, informing local landowners and using Twitter is not good enough."

A Forestry Commission representative said notices had been placed in the woods, neighbouring properties written to and local news media engaged, in addition to online information sources.

The areas under treatment are sprayed with the short-lived biological control Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is not thought to be toxic to humans. 

"Successful aerial treatment depends on a combination of dry weather, low wind and an aircraft being available," the representative explained. "This means we might have as little as 24 hours' notice of the exact dates of aerial treatments."

The Forestry Commission has set itself the goal of eradicating OPM from the area, where individual moths, though no nests, were found last year.

Its area director Alison Field said: "We cannot afford to give the population a chance to recover if we are to ensure that local people can continue to safely enjoy their parks, gardens and woodlands."

But Groulef also questioned whether eradication could be achieved.

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