As part of a pioneering conservation project called Back from the Brink (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation worked with an array of partners between July 2017 to Feb 2021 to boost the habitat for this specialist moth where small colonies remain in Gloucestershire, Dorset and Wiltshire. Partners include Forestry England, Dorset County Council, Natural England, National Trust, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust.
The key to success has been the growth and planting of over 4,000 Barberry shrub plants (the food plant on which the moth depends) across 169 sites, 44 in Dorset and 125 in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
The plant has become less common in recent decades as it was removed from hedgerows on a grand scale when it was discovered that it could act as an alternate host for a species of stem rust (a disease affecting cereal crops). The last outbreak of this rust in the UK was in the 1950s and there has been considerable work by Butterfly Conservation and independent ecologists to try and reverse the resulting decline in the Barberry Carpet moth.
Conservation has worked closely with crop scientists at the John Innes Centre recently to ensure new plantings are strategically located to limit the risk to arable crops, (if there was a return of stem rust) planting away from arable land on nature reserves, woodland edges and glades, in gardens, private estates and community spaces.
As well as increasing the availability of the foodplant, planting new Barberry plants has also created new ‘insect corridors’, linking colonies together and enabling the moth to spread into new areas instead of remaining in isolated spots.
Butterfly Conservation Project Officer, Fiona Haynes said: “The project has not only helped secure a brighter future for this endangered moth but has been of great benefit to people too. From the fantastic volunteers who have joined in with planting events, developing practical skills in the fresh air, to engaging local groups with overnight moth trapping and the amazing support from local school children who have enjoyed learning about moths and butterflies. We’ve worked with three schools in Dorset and three schools across Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
“Although continuing this work last year was considerably more difficult due to Covid-19, we’re very thankful for the dedication of all the volunteers and partners who contributed. And to local landowners who have been so willing to embrace biodiversity projects like this one, committing to looking after their Barberry plants and working with our volunteers into the future.”
“Of the remaining 12 colonies left in the UK, we know we’ve been able to work to directly improve 10 of them which is a major achievement. We’re hopeful that we should start to see an increase in populations and colonies of the moth forming in the future.”
More information about Back from the Brink and the Barberry Carpet moth project can be found at Naturebftb.co.uk.