Fears over toxic caterpillars have subsided after a mystery species was found to be a much less dangerous than originally thought.

Residents were unnerved when street hedges were taken over by what they believed to be oak processionary moths, which can cause asthma attacks and sore throats.

However, Braintree Council believes it has identified the insect as brown tail moth caterpillars, which are native to the UK.

A spokesman said: “We received a complaint relating to caterpillars in Tabor Avenue which we don’t believe are oak processionary moth caterpillars, but are instead from the brown tail moth.

“Greenfield’s Community Housing, which owns most of the properties on this road, is looking into this matter and the treatment of the caterpillars.”

However, this type of caterpillar can still cause problems.

They are most active between April and June and can leave an irritating rash on those who come into contact with them.

Each moth can leave between 150 and 250 eggs, which hatch around three weeks later.

Darren Tansley, water for wildlife officer at Essex Wildlife Trust, said: “The vast majority of caterpillars are entirely harmless to humans and although they may seem like pests, are vital to the survival of many of our best-loved species such as hedgehogs, blackbirds and robins.

“With natural habitats declining, it is important we all play our part by allowing space for insects in and around our gardens.

“Brown tail moth caterpillars are one of the few species that can give people an irritating rash but like stinging nettles, even these are not a problem if you avoid touching them.”