Friday, 23 September 2011

Caterpillars released in their thousands to save rare UK moth

Hope to boost numbers of the barberry carpet moth September 2011: Conservationists have released hundreds of caterpillars in a bid to boost the numbers of one of the UK's rarest moths. About 2,000 barberry carpet moth larvae have been introduced to the organically managed Cholderton Estate on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border.

The barberry carpet moth is extremely rare and is restricted to just a handful of sites across the UK. Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation timed the release to take place in the evening, giving the larvae a better chance of avoiding predators such as wasps and birds.

The cryptically coloured grey and brown moth gets its name from its association with barberry, a plant that has suffered extensive persecution in the past.

Barberry plant was all but wiped out – and took the moth with it
During the 1970s the Barberry Carpet suffered a dramatic decline when the plant was widely eradicated to prevent it from acting as a host for wheat rust fungus. But, by the time scientists developed rust-resistant varieties of wheat the barberry plant had almost disappeared, spelling disaster for the barberry carpet.

Now steps are under way to reintroduce the moth to parts of its former range. It is hoped the caterpillars released on the Cholderton Estate will go on to form a viable breeding colony.

The fully organic site will provide an ideal home for the new colony of moths as it is managed with an emphasis on nature conservation. It boasts a number of established barberry plants including one bush that is believed to be the oldest in the UK.

Butterfly Conservation's Moth Conservation Officer Tony Davis explained: ‘The Cholderton estate is superbly managed for wildlife and we hope that it will provide a secure home for this extremely rare moth.'

The barberry carpet is limited to a few small sites, mainly in Wiltshire, with colonies also in Gloucestershire, Dorset and introduced colonies elsewhere. A further colony has also recently been discovered in Oxfordshire.

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