YOU could be forgiven for thinking that Halloween had come early. But this spooky looking web-covered hedge in Basingstoke has nothing to do with spiders.

In fact, the thick white coating has been spun by hungry caterpillars.

The hedges, along Ibworth Lane, near Wootton St Lawrence, may have spooked passing motorists and walkers with their ghostly appearance.

However, according to wildlife experts, they are nothing to be alarmed about having been created by the ermine moth caterpillar which are harmless.

The caterpillars spin webs to protect themselves from predatory birds while they are feeding.

There are many different kinds of ermine moths, with their name referring to the vast white webs they can create when living together. They are found particularly in areas where plants grow in chalk or limestone-based soils, such as north west Hampshire and Wiltshire.

The moths fly at night between June and September in a single generation, where they mate and lay their eggs. It is the caterpillars, rather than the moths, that produce the silk.

The webs are made to help protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites, and the thick webbing also helps prevent any competition for the leaves they feed on.

While the webbing may look dramatic, it isn’t a risk to human or animal health, though the presence of the caterpillars eating away at the tree or hedge means that most of the leaves may be eaten by the time the caterpillars have become full-grown moths.

That said, the RHS says that these webs “should not affect the long term health or vigour of host plants”, and that the moths generally target different trees each year, so that any plant covered in silk is unlikely to be killed by the caterpillars.

In addition to trees, whole hedges can sometimes be affected, leading to striking pictures as they go about their work.

The webs will be around for another month or so before all the caterpillars metamorphose into moths, before returning again next year.

A tree in Luggershall near Andover was also found covered in the caterpillar webbing.