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Invading caterpillars strip hedges in Barming


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Hungry green and black caterpillars have been devouring and destroying hedges across Kent.

Whole armies of the creatures, originally from Asia, are invading gardens stripping hedges and plants of leaves. The latest outbreak is in Barming, Maidstone.

Paul Abell spraying his caterpillar-stripped hedge at Barming
Paul Abell spraying his caterpillar-stripped hedge at Barming
Destroyed: Hungry Asian Box caterpillars are devouring bushes in Barming. Picture: Paul Abell
Destroyed: Hungry Asian Box caterpillars are devouring bushes in Barming. Picture: Paul Abell

Sales manager Paul Abell, 58, from Fennel Close returned from holiday to find his front garden hedge completely destroyed and then discovered the same fate had befallen his neighbours.

He said: "I came back from holiday to find my hedge nearly eaten by Box caterpillars. "Apparently they came to Britain from Asia 10 years ago and are running riot through south east England."

He posted photos of the attack on Facebook and was amazed by the response.

He said: "It seems they are spreading all over the place. Within minutes of me posting the photos I had replies saying others were suffering the same thing. One chap said his entire front hedge had been eaten during the 10 days he had been away.

"My own plants are all dead. They look as if they have been covered in cobwebs but the caterpillars are everywhere."

Hungry Asian Box caterpillars are devouring entire hedges. Picture: Paul Abell
Hungry Asian Box caterpillars are devouring entire hedges. Picture: Paul Abell

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, (RHS) Box tree caterpillars (cydalima perspectalis) feed within webbing and can completely defoliate Box (Buxus) plants. The adult moth was not seen in Britain until 2007. Caterpillars began appearing in private gardens around 2011.

They are now found across England, particularly in London and the south east, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and are most active between April and October.

An RHS spokesman said: "For growers in the south east of England it is now a problem that is likely to ​reoccur repeatedly throughout the growing season and in successive years."

Sightings have grown from 800 in 2015 to 3,000 in 2017 and nearly 12,000 in 2019. To report sightings to the RHS click here to take part in a survey.

Some species of moth can smother plants and hedgerows with a cobweb-like covering
Some species of moth can smother plants and hedgerows with a cobweb-like covering

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