Better times forecast for rare moth in Staffordshire


The washout summer may have been bad news for the nation's moths, but the Forestry Commission is working with Butterfly Conservation to offer a brighter future for one of the UK's rarest species in Staffordshire. A group of Forestry Commission woods near Loggerheads (near Market Drayton) is one of the remaining English havens for the day-flying black-and-white Argent & Sable moth. Once widespread, the moth's range has dwindled so dramatically that it is of national conservation concern and a priority species with its own UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Argent & Sable (Dave Grundy).

Now work is underway to give it a timely boost. More woodland rides between 15 and 40 metres wide are being created in its Staffordshire strongholds and young birch trees coppiced to provide food and shelter for the moth's caterpillars.

Jim Stewart, Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger, explained: "Young birch trees are key to the moth's survival and so we have introduced a cycle to cut them back every eight years. This is a very traditional form of woodland management known as coppicing which promotes vigorous growth. We are also starting work to create more rides, which offer flight paths connecting moth habitats together, helping to prevent the population's fragmentation."

Woods involved in the project include Burntwood, where a total of 1.2 kilometres of rides will have been completed by the year's end, and nearby Big Bishop Wood, which may have supported England's biggest colony of the moth as recently as six years ago. A 600-metre ride will also be completed in Swinnerton Old Park.

Jenny Joy, Butterfly Conservation's Senior Regional Officer in the West Midlands, added: "The moth has become so rare that it's hard to overstate the importance of these woodlands. We have worked closely with the Forestry Commission to draw up a management plan to boost its prospects. Dismal summers like the one we have had can spell major trouble for vulnerable moth and butterfly populations which have become fragmented. So this work is incredibly timely."

The moth's very specific habitat requirements are thought to partly explains its decline.

Written by: Forestry Commission