Moth hunters rake through gardens

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The Independent Online
A hunt for a hairy and highly destructive caterpillar is about to begin in Essex. The Ministry of Agriculture wants to ensure the Asian gypsy moth does not get a toehold in Britain.

The moth's 2in-long larvae can munch through large areas of forest once its population builds up.

It has been spreading gradually into Europe from Asia. It reached Germany three years ago and has caused severe damage to plantations.

Last summer, it was found in gardens in South Woodford, Essex for the first time.

Ministry of Agriculture officials eradicated it with insecticide, and they are about to return to check if any caterpillars have hatched out this year.

The officials will also issue leaflets to the householders helping them to identify the pest.

The fear is that the insect or its eggs could reach Britain in cars, lorries or imports which have come from already-infested areas in Eastern Europe. Its numbers could boom once it arrives because of the absence of its natural predators and diseases.

The Forestry Commission has also set up pheremone traps at Britain's ports. These emit the potent chemical which the moths use to attract their mate - but the traps lure the insects to their doom.