PEOPLE in the borough should be on the lookout for dangerous caterpillars which are currently emerging from oak trees. Caterpillars which will turn into the oak processionary moths (OPM) are a tree pest which can cause a number of health problems like skin rashes and breathing difficulties. A fresh wave of the bugs have emerged in Croydon and parts of Surrey in recent weeks, since the Advertiser last reported the story. Residents are advised to keep children, pets and livestock away from the caterpillars and their nests and to report any sightings to the local council. The pests also feed on oak leaves, and in large numbers can severely defoliate trees and leave them vulnerable to diseases. Dr Yvonne Doyle, London Regional Director of Public Health England, said: "We strongly advise people not to touch or approach the caterpillars or their nests because of the health risks posed by the toxin-containing hairs. "Pets can also be affected, and should be kept away as well." Croydon Council says Shirley, Ashburton and New Addington have been, in the past, among the worst affected areas in the borough. Tony Brooks, the council's director of environment, said: "We conducted a winter survey for the brown-tailed moth and, as a result, removed a number of nests. There have been isolated reports of the moth in New Addington but they're a dramatic reduction in the numbers recorded in past years. "We've started precautionary spraying for the processionary moth caterpillar in areas in which it has previously been found – Shirley and Ashburton – and we're about to undertake a survey of those areas to ascertain if a problem's likely this year. "Anybody who sees nests or caterpillars should report them to us, on 020 8726 6200, or the Forestry Commission, so that they can be dealt with properly."
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