LARGE webs containing hundreds of potentially toxic caterpillars are being reported across the county.

The webs are where caterpillars that have been overwintering are emerging and feasting on vegetation.

Dorset Council believes some of the caterpillars may be brown tail moth caterpillars, which have hairs which are an irritant to human skin.

These hairs cause a poison ivy-like itch which can last for up to weeks.

In some rare cases, people can even develop breathing difficulties after being exposed.

Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council environment member, said: "Our advice is to avoid brown tail moth caterpillars, which emerge every spring, rather than try to destroy them.

"Dorset Council treat infestations on rights of way and council owned land by managing the vegetation or with chemical treatment, where appropriate.

"If you have concerns about an infestation on your own property, then specialist companies can be employed.”

"We work alongside our colleagues in the town and parish councils, so they may also take relevant control measures.”

The advice is that if you notice the small brown, hairy caterpillars – which have two bright yellow/orange dots on a line on their backs – it is best to leave them alone. The caterpillars are generally more common in May and June.

However, it is the hairs that are toxic so if they are shed they can become airborne and blown by the wind. These toxins can remain in the hairs for up to three years.

Dorset Council advice is that if you get the rash, apply antihistamine cream or calamine lotion. Symptoms should subside after a few hours.

A council spokesman said: "If you see them within your home, or in the garden, put on some vinyl or rubber gloves, pick them up and drop them in a bucket of soapy and salty water.

"During the winter steps can be taken to reduce the numbers within people’s gardens (Oct to Jan). Again, using gloves, remove the nests and destroy by drowning.

"Burning off the vegetation and nests now will make the problem worse, as the hairs of the caterpillars will become airborne, so do not do this. "Also, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is asking us all to not have bonfires during the coronavirus pandemic."