Crisis team rushing to come up with plan to tackle poisonous caterpillars

A Dutch tourist snapped this photo of thousands of oak processionary caterpillars covering a tree at a campsite in Volstroff, France. June 17, 2019
A Dutch tourist snapped this photo of thousands of oak processionary caterpillars covering a tree at a campsite in Volstroff, France. June 17, 2019. (Photo: NL Times)

A team of experts in the field of oak processionary caterpillars is meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality this week. They hope to quickly come up with an action plan for how municipalities and provinces can tackle the millions of these poisonous caterpillars plaguing the country, NU.nl reports.

The oak processionary caterpillars get their name from their preference for oak trees and the fact that they travel in nose-to-tail processions. Their venomous hairs can cause skin irritation and breathing problems in humans and animals.

The team of experts will update the protocol that the government issued for combating the caterpillars in 2013, the year in which municipalities and provinces became responsible for this issue instead of the national government. Agreements will also be made about the budget that the Ministry will release for the action plan, how information on the caterpillars will be gathered, and how to best combat this issue.

The number of oak processionary caterpillars has tripled in many places in the Netherlands compared to last year. Provinces like Noord-Brabant, Drenthe, and Overijssel, where many oak trees grow, are most affected. But there's been a strong increase throughout the Netherlands, according to the Knowledge Center on Oak Processionary Caterpillars. It is estimated that hundreds of millions of these caterpillars are currently infesting Dutch trees. 

Experts have been warning for years that municipalities should use a preventative approach, tackling the caterpillars before they start shedding hairs by spraying pesticides or cutting trees. But many municipalities do not prioritize the problem or don't have money available to combat it, according to the newspaper. Companies that control the caterpillars are all fully booked throughout the summer. 

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