Caterpillar infestation causes concern on Canvey Island

A brown tail moth caterpillar on a notice board at Canvey Heights Country Park
Image caption The hairs from the caterpillars can cause irritation to human skin

Users of a country park in Essex are being warned to take extra care due to an infestation of caterpillars.

Thousands of brown tail moth caterpillars have hatched at Canvey Heights Country Park in recent weeks.

The insects can cause unpleasant skin irritations, rashes and even breathing difficulties to humans if they come into contact with them.

Castle Point Borough Council, which manages the site, said this year's numbers were unprecedented.

It said: "We have experienced problems with brown tail moth caterpillars at Canvey Heights before, but never as bad as this year.

"Council officers are following best practice in working to control infestation but in the meantime visitors are asked to take care when using the park.

"We have been dealing with the problem by cutting down branches and burning them, but have not resorted to spraying as this would kill everything in the area."

Irritable hairs

Signs have been placed around the park warning people of the presence of the insects.

The council advised people who had come into contact with the caterpillar to wash their hands thoroughly with soapy water and apply calamine lotion and to seek medical advice if symptoms persisted.

The Brown tail moth caterpillar is approximately one inch (2.5 cm) long, with red spots on its back and covered by thousands of brown hairs, which cause the irritation.

Sarah Henshall, from the Buglife conservation charity, said the warm and dry spring had led to the unusually high numbers.

She said: "When they are in very large numbers they can cause problems to human health because their hairs can be irritable.

"It is prolific at this time of year anyway, so people have probably been a little bit more vigilant because it is in the press and people are looking out for it."

"The best thing to do if you see them is to stay away from them."

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