Developing

False Widow Spider Outbreak Closes School

An invasion of Britain's most venomous spider has prompted the temporary closure of a school.

The Dean Academy , in the Forest of Dean, will be shut today after an infestation of the false widow species in its ICT block.

Vice principal Craig Burns sent a letter to parents saying the decision followed advice from pest control experts and health and safety officers.

"We have identified an issue with false widow spiders in the academy," he wrote.

"We have taken advice from the Health and Safety unit at Gloucestershire Local Authority and C&D Pest Control, Chepstow, and have taken the decision to close the academy all day on Wednesday in order that the appropriate pest control work can be undertaken.

"We are advised that it will be safe for students to return to school on Thursday.

"Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause you, but I'm sure you will understand that this is in the best interest of students' health and safety."

It comes amid a growing numbers of reports of false widows across the UK, with the increase often put down to warmer temperatures.

The Steatoda nobilis species is thought to stow away in banana imports and first arrived in the country from the Canary Islands more than 100 years ago.

There have been isolated reports of the spider causing significant injury, with one amateur footballer allegedly requiring emergency surgery after being bitten.

But no one is thought to have been killed by the arachnid, and symptoms tend to be limited to pain around the bite, swelling and, occasionally, feverishness.

The spiders are most commonly found along the south coast of England, particularly Dorset and Hampshire, but the Natural History Museum says they are spreading to Essex and Surrey.

The arachnids - which measure between between 1.6cm and 3.2cm - may also be creeping northwards, with reports of the spider being found in Leicestershire and Glamorgan.

Experts have stressed they present no more risk to humans than bees or wasps - which kill up to 12 people each year in the UK.

The Natural History Museum says that spiders in general are not aggressive and usually only bite when unintentionally squeezed or pinched.