BROMLEY residents are being warned to keep an eye out for toxic caterpillars.

The Forestry commission has issued an alert today to ensure people remain vigilant a year after an outbreak was spotted in the grounds of the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Beckenham.

The oak processionary moth, which live in oak trees, had been spotted in Holland a few weeks ago and it is thought they could be hatching around parts of London and Berkshire at the moment.

The species, which was accidentally introduced to Britain from mainland Europe in 2006, are a tree pest and pose a health risk to people and animals. Children and pets should be kept away.

The caterpillars have tiny hairs which contain toxins and when in contact with skin can cause rashes and eye and throat irritations.

London regional director of Public Health England Dr Yvonne Doyle said: "Anyone who experiences an itchy or painful skin rash or a sore throat and irritated eyes after being near oak trees in these areas should consult their GP or NHS 111."

Director of Forestry Commission England Ian Gambles said: "We need reports of the caterpillars or their nests from the public or others such as gardeners and tree surgeons, who are out and about in areas with oak trees.

"However, the public should not try to remove the caterpillars or nests themselves. This task needs to be carefully timed to be most effective, and is best done by specially trained and equipped operators."

Residents can even report sightings through a smartphone app available on the Forestry Commission website.

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