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Norfolk caterpillar cull sparks backlash amongst nature lovers

PUBLISHED: 13:17 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:49 15 May 2018

The caterpillars on a railing in Cromer. Picture: Huw Parker

The caterpillars on a railing in Cromer. Picture: Huw Parker

Huw Parker

Conservationists and residents of north Norfolk have expressed their anger that a colony of brown tailed caterpillars will be exterminated.

The caterpillars covering the railings in Cromer. Picyure: Huw ParkerThe caterpillars covering the railings in Cromer. Picyure: Huw Parker

The caterpillars, which are currently living along the coastline of Cromer, cause people who come into contact with them to get an itchy rash.

North Norfolk District Council announced on May 11 that some of the caterpillars, those living on the cliffs to the west of Cromer, will be exterminated.

A spokesman said: “In response to public concerns about the caterpillars, we will remove and destroy some of the caterpillars one afternoon/evening in the next few days. We will remove the caterpillars closest to the footpaths and access points used by the public.”

Julian Thomas is a wildlife enthusiast based in Somerset. He wrote on Twitter: “Oh, for heaven’s sake North Norfolk District Council. You’ve warned people. The caterpillar ‘tents’ are obvious. Most people will suffer irritation no worse than a nettle sting, if that. Why should wildlife suffer just in case some people are too stupid to avoid contact?”

Brown-tail moth caterpillar. Photo: Wiki/Noushka31Brown-tail moth caterpillar. Photo: Wiki/Noushka31

Lisa Shearing wrote on Facebook: “This is madness. Just don’t touch them, it’s not that difficult and they will all be gone very soon anyway! I’m sure the insecticide that will be used will be a lot more harmful and destroy other creatures and poison the greenery around that area, but no one seems to care about that.”

Dr Phil Sterling is one of the country’s leading experts on brown tail moths, and studied the species for his PhD.

Dr Sterling, who works for the Butterfly Conservation Trust, said: “It’s a difficult one to weigh up. On the one hand, if they were spraying a large area then this could have a knock on effect on non-targeted species. Especially as it’s bird nesting time it seems inevitable some other species will die as a result, there’s no spray that will just kill the caterpillars.

“On the other hand if they’re targeting just down to the beach then this would be an effective way of keeping the public, and specifically children, safe. If there are hundreds and thousands they will get absolutely everywhere- they’ll get on the beach, on your towels.”

The railings have been taped off since the weekend. Pictures: David BaleThe railings have been taped off since the weekend. Pictures: David Bale

Dr Sterling, who wrote his doctorate on the species whilst studying at Oxford university, added: “I went to Alderny in the 1990s and there were 600 million of the caterpillars there, it completely destroyed the island’s tourist season the following year.”

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