So now it's warmed up a bit following that rather nasty period of cold weather there are the inevitable sightings of Pine processionary moth, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, caterpillars and all the usual corresponding scare comments that we, our children, our dogs, cats and horses will all die if they so much as get near them and that the vets and hospitals all over France will be unable to cope. Let's face it there is nothing like a bit of shock and horror to lighten up our dull winter days.
Of course this is not to say that the caterpillars can't be a problem and that due diligence is required when walking anywhere near Pine trees, equally that logic would normally dictate that if you have a Pine tree in your garden and knowing this potential danger it may make sense to remove it - there are very few parts of France where they belong naturally. 200 years ago in most places you would have been hard pushed to find one in most areas and it is another example of how commercial / economic interests with the demand for softwoods and quick returns have changed both the landscape and the environment dramatically. We see a similar issue with Poplars being used in wetlands.
It was in fact Napoleon 3rd that in effect put in place the possibilities for this species of moth to spread across France with..
"la loi du 19 juin 1857, également appelée loi d'assainissement et de mise en culture des Landes de Gascogne, va encourager le drainage, la plantation de pins, le développement de l'économie sylvicole, tout en condamnant en l'espace d'une génération le système agro-pastoral"
which roughly translates as......
"The law of June 19, 1857, also called the law of sanitation and cultivation of the Landes de Gascogne, which will encourage the drainage, the planting of pine plantations and the development of an economy based on siviculture, while at the same time condemning in the space of a generation the pastoral system, (of small sheep farming that was carried out on the wetlands)."
Since that time Les Landes has become a massive region for the production of pine and there are corresponding plantations all across France all heavily infested with this Pine processionary moth. This combined with garden planting and climate change has made this one of the most successful species we have in France today.
As a footnote, the sheep farmers on the mairais or marshes of that region at that time would spend their days watching their flocks on stilts, now that's something to think about.