Twice as many nests destroyed as oak processionary moth spreads

Double the number of oak processionary moth nests have been found this year, with some affected areas reporting eightfold increases in nests destroyed.

The latest figures from the Forestry Commission - revealed exclusively to HW this week - show that at least 1,000 nests have been found and destroyed.

In the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, an oak processionary moth offensive has led to staff destroying 250 nests during the summer, compared with 30 last year.

The council put the huge increase in nests found down to the fact that it has employed additional staff this year to tackle the problem of the moths - which can severely defoliate oaks and oak hybrids.

Meanwhile, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 600 nests were found in 184 trees. In 2007, Kew's arboretum team destroyed 185 nests in 45 trees, but it found around 500 nests in around 100 oaks in 2008.

Kew head of horticulture Dr Nigel Taylor said: "The pest continues to expand its range within the gardens, as was expected."

Staff have undertaken a new spraying programme this year in the publicly accessible parts of the gardens, as well as using a biohazard vacuum system to remove caterpillar nests from those oak trees that could not be sprayed.

"In 2010 it is planned to start spraying earlier in the season as leaf buds break, which is when we believe the pest is at its most vulnerable and least toxic to humans," added Taylor.

The Forestry Commission's Outbreak Management Team - comprising representatives from Defra, Kew, and Ealing, Brent, Hounslow and Richmond Upon Thames councils - is expected to meet again in the autumn to discuss management strategies.

A Brent council representative told HW it had not found any nests this summer. A nest was found in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time, and Ealing Council has destroyed around 100 nests this year.

Roddie Burgess, head of the Forestry Commission's Plant Health Service, which is coordinating the programme of work, said: "The warm, damp spring weather meant it has been a particularly good year for moths and caterpillars generally, with high populations being recorded for many species.

"In addition, we are getting better at looking for and finding oak processionary moths' larvae and nests, and we had more surveyors working this year than last."

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