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Improved Methods for the Early Detection of Oak Processionary Moth - TH0101

The oak processionary moth (OPM) is a native to central and southern Europe but its range has been extending northwards since the middle of the last century, to include France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.In 2006, infestations of OPM larval nests were found in two London Boroughs, as a result of accidental introduction of eggs on imported oak trees. This was the first recorded breeding population in Great Britain, and further outbreaks have since occurred in several London boroughs.Attempts at eradication of the moth within the outbreak areas have proved to be unsuccessful, leading to emergency measures being taken to include OPM as a quarantine pest. Consequently, any oaks above 2m in height imported into the UK from EU member states must be accompanied by a plant passport certifying them to be free of OPM. Further regulation at the EU level (protected zone status) is being considered.Although control measures have been implemented in the infested areas over the past 5 years, the Forestry Commission have concluded that the difficulties in detecting OPM at low densities, combined with the limitations of current control options, and the establishment of the moths at a number sites - where control measures are extremely difficult or impossible to implement – are such that eradication is longer considered feasible.Management action for OPM will now concentrate on minimising the rate of spread from the known infested areas (i.e. by controlling numbers and through surveillance and action within a 10 km buffer zone around infested areas) and eradicating OPM from any new outbreaks/importations.

Outside of London, a second outbreak was discovered in Pangbourne, Berkshire in October 2010, also on imported trees, and is currently under eradication. In addition to being a quarantine pest as a major defoliator of oaks trees, the caterpillars of OPM have irritant hairs, that are released on disturbance, and can be blown in the wind and cause serious irritation to the skin, eyes and bronchial tubes of humans and animals. Both the moth larvae and their silken nests are considered a significant health problem when populations of OPM are found in close proximity to urban and amenity areas, such as the parks and gardens of London.

The implementation of current policy requires improved detection of OPM, especially improved detection of new outbreaks, and early detection of further spread from known infested areas into or beyond buffer zones around outbreak/infested eareas.Defra has therefore commissioned a study to deliver outputs that will improve the early detection of the oak processionary moth, including: better pheromone (sex attractant) traps for adult moths, an evaluation to determine whether amateur moth-trapping networks and enthusiasts can provide additional monitoring, novel cost-effective detection methods for the younger stages (eggs and young caterpillars) and of the airborne irritant hairs, and a better understanding of the OPM lifecycle under UK conditions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of surveillance. The proposed project aims to deliver across each of these areas for improved early detection.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2012

To: 2015

Cost: £379,110
Contractor / Funded Organisations
F E R A (FERA), Forest Research Agency, Brunel University, Centre For Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
Plant health              
Plant Pests and Diseases