Trees in Church Street chopped down by Hartlepool council after discovery of 'pest' caterpillars

Trees recently planted as part of the regeneration of Hartlepool's Church Street are being treated and felled after ‘pest’ caterpillars were discovered.

By Fiona Thompson
Monday, 15 July, 2019, 12:48
Hartlepool Borough Council works to remove the problem trees in Church Street.

Two oak trees in Church Square are being chemically treated and removed following the discovery of Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars.

Hartlepool Borough Council is working closely with the Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Forestry Commission after being alerted to a potential pest problem.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Similar outbreaks have been reported in other parts of the UK

“The oak trees were purchased from a nursery in the Netherlands and planted as part of the recent refurbishment of Church Square.

“The caterpillar eggs are thought to have already been on the trees when they left the continent.”

The Government’s Forest Research project, says the caterpillars are classed as a pest because they feed on the leaves of oak trees and strip a whole tree bare, leaving them more vulnerable to other pests and diseases.

They can be a threat to people, as older caterpillars develop tiny hairs containing urticating, or irritating, protein called thaumetopoein, which can be shed when they are threatened or disturbed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Contact can cause itchy skin rashes, eye irritations, sore throats, difficulties breathing and in rare cases, allergic reactions in people and animals.

The hairs can be blown in the wind and accumulate in the caterpillars’ nests, which can fall to the ground, and stick to trunks, branches, grass and clothing in addition to kit used by tree surgeons, forestry and ground workers’.

The species moves about in late spring and early summer in nose-to-tail processions, which is where they get their name from.

The processions are often arrow-headed, with one leader and subsequent rows of several caterpillars abreast and as they eat oak trees they can sometimes be seen walking across the ground between trees.

They can only be seen between May and July and they have a grey body and dark head.

Older larvae have a central dark stripe with paler lines down each side and they are not usually found on fences, walls and similar structures, such as garden furniture.

People are advised not to touch or approach the nests or the bugs.