Sussex couple living in boiler suits as thousands of ‘toxic’ caterpillars invade home

A couple have taken to wearing white boiler suits to avoid coming into contact with thousands of ‘toxic caterpillars’ which have invaded their home.

Diana and Fred Benton are living in white boiler suits to avoid 'toxic caterpillars'
Diana and Fred Benton are living in white boiler suits to avoid 'toxic caterpillars'

Diana Benton and her husband Fred, who live in Kent Close, Bexhill, said the brown tail caterpillars arrived during the warm weather around Easter.

Mrs Benton said their garden is now filled with thousands of the insects, which can cause a blistering rash and breathing difficulties.

She added: “At first we were unsure how to handle this massive influx so I Googled the species and was horrified to read how the toxic hairs on these caterpillars affect daily living. They are extremely harmful to asthma sufferers who can experience breathing problems.

The Bentons said they have considered moving to get away from the caterpillars

“I have asthma and have used my inhaler more times in this six week time frame than I have needed to in the last year.

“A member of my family has severe eczema which is also aggravated by these hairs.

“We have read to avoid contact with these hairs as you can get a really itching rash. We have both still got this rash as we are constantly living with these hairs all around us.

“We have killed thousands from our garden, sweeping them from climbing up our bungalow walls. We have been advised to keep windows and doors closed and refrain from hanging out the washing as the hairs get into the clothes and will cause itching.”

The couple have purchased white boiler suits to keep the caterpillar hairs from their skin

Mrs Benton said the infestation reached such a point they decided to buy white boiler suits, complete with hats, goggles and gloves so they could see when a caterpillar was climbing on them.

She added: “I’m sure people are thinking ‘they’re only caterpillars, what a fuss they’re making’.

“But believe me, we are not the sort of people to shy away from dealing with anything. It is now invading public spaces. We have seen them ourselves down the railway lines, on the beach and across the road up Hastings road, and it is causing public health problems.

“We have not been able to use our private outdoor garden space for six weeks now. I have had to seek advice from my GP as we are at our wits’ end with this constant itching.”

The caterpillars

Rother district councillor Jay Brewerton, who has visited the couple, said she was shocked at the scale of the infestation and the area it was covering.

She added: “I am extremely concerned for the health of our local residents and the fact residents should be able to use and enjoy their gardens without the stress of removing toxic pests which are invading in their thousands.

“It is currently not Rother District Council’s policy to deal with this particular toxic caterpillar, however, I am investigating other councils’ policies where they have also had experience with this issue.”

The Bentons said they are considering selling their home if nothing can be done to solve the situation.

A Rother District Council spokesman said: “Over the past 30 years the Brown Tail moth has become endemic in the south east of England. The hairs of the caterpillars can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

“We would not normally use pesticides to deal with the caterpillars due to the detrimental effect on other insects, the birds that eat the insects and the environment. However, if there was a severe infestation in a public area, we may consider putting up warning signs.

“When we do receive reports of infestations in specific areas, we contact the landowner in the winter to ask them to remove and destroy the ‘tents’ created by the moths from trees and bushes to reduce the risk of similar problems occurring the following year.”

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