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  1. ITV Report

Poisonous caterpillars plaguing Essex village

Brown-tailed moth caterpillars are covered in poisonous barbed hairs. Credit: Butterfly Conservation.

Thousands of cocoons containing poisonous caterpillars have appeared in an Essex village - prompting a health warning.

Each of the web-like structures holds around 2,000 brown-tailed moth caterpillars and people in Heybridge Basin, near Maldon, say there are four times as many as last year.

Although they appear relatively harmless when first hatched, the bugs develop tiny barbed hairs as they grow and can be a serious health risk if they become airborne on a windy day.

A cocoon of caterpillars. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

"A number of hairy caterpillars have what we call urticating hairs. These can cause irritation. If they get on your skin, they cause itching, if you get them in your throat or lungs, they can irritate your lungs as well. They're not very nice things to get close to."

– Matt Shardlow, Buglife, Peterborough.

Symptoms can include breathing difficulties, infections and severe allergic reactions.

Jill Doubtfire, from Heybridge Basin, became an unsuspecting victim.

Jill Doubtfire encountered one of the caterpillars on a walk. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

"I found one on me so I put it on a piece of card and tipped it out the window, being a good nature lover.

"I came up in a complete collar of spots the whole way around my neck, itching like mad. It was very, very uncomfortable."

– Jill Doubtfire.
Brown-tailed moth caterpillars. Credit: Wildlife Trust.

Villagers in Heybridge Basin fear next year's caterpillar population could be even bigger. Many of the caterpillars have already turned into moths, laying eggs ready to hatch in the spring.

Watch our full report below.