Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Barberry (Carpet Moth) Blog Spot!

Barberry Carpet Blog

Again I am long overdue an update, but it has been quite a busy summer season on the project.  As we’re now over halfway through I thought I’d tell you where we’ve got to!   So far we have found homes for 1700 plants on over 60 sites.  In Dorset where there is only one colony we are bolstering the supply of plants on the actual site which still supports the moth, and have planted more than 500 plants in the wider landscape.  In North Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, we are linking the colonies by planting stepping stones of habitat between them, with the aim that the species will become less genetically isolated.

So it sounds really good that we’ve planted 1700 and the target for the project is 3000.  Not all of our plants have survived though.  In the first summer after planting we had the drought to contend with for one thing, so we lost some plants in that.  Also Barberry is a slow-growing species that is easily out-competed by more vigorous species such as Clematis, Brambles and Bracken.  Aftercare of our plants is incredibly important and I’m trying to find planting locations where this is possible.  We have moved from the idea of planting mainly in hedgerows to finding people with land, young woodlands and large gardens where possible.  This means that the opportunities for aftercare are greater too.  In part to make up for plants that were lost in the drought, I’ve been collecting Barberry berries and encouraging people to grow more plants from the seeds, so we hope that we will have planted enough of these extras by the end of the project to make up for casualties lost in the drought.

The Barberry Carpet has two broods per year and therefore I ran three moth trapping events in the colony areas this summer to see if we could attract any adult moths.  This doesn’t often happen as our preferred method of surveying is to look for larvae as it’s much more reliable.  I was so pleased though that on two of the three occasions we were successful!  Not many people have seen the adult moth as it is so rare, so it had been excellent to run events where they have turned up at the trap.  Some real expert ‘moth-ers’ have attended as well as locals and recently we even had 9 moth traps going at a single site.  I wasn’t confident that we’d attract any Barberry Carpet, but was very relieved to get 2, especially as the weather turned bad and we had our traps under big fishing umbrellas.  The moths were obviously released unharmed the next day after posing for some photos of course.  We were also lucky enough to get 17 of them at an event in May this year which caused great excitement amongst attendees!   It is always such a relief when you get a good catch, especially when people have driven a long way with high expectations!

Our larval surveys took place through early and mid-September, and we had mixed results.  On some sites we had fewer larvae than normal and yet a larva turned up on a new site that has been surveyed for 10 years with no previous success!

We are just entering the time when I can get planting with volunteers.  I have a lot of sites lined up for this winter but am hoping to be able to plant about 1000 plants, so expect to be extremely busy.  Our events are starting in mid­-October and will be advertised on here.


Barberry Carpet Moth on Barberry - (c) Alex Hyde

If you would like to get involved with this project, you could always volunteer to help if you live in North Dorset, North Wiltshire or Gloucestershire?  We’re always after more planting locations too, so if you live in these areas please get in touch.  If you live too far away to attract the moth to your garden with our plants, I may be able to send you some seeds so you can grow your own plants.  I’m really hopeful that a few years down the line we will start to find Barberry Carpet larvae at our new planting sites so watch this space!

 

Fiona Haynes, Butterfly Conservation Trust

Barberry Carpet Project Officer

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

4 thoughts on “Barberry (Carpet Moth) Blog Spot!

  1. Fascinating article thank you.
    I found it whilst searching for photos of Barberry, as I have purchased some seed from Chiltern Seeds and I’m sowng them to grow one shrub in my garden in East Dorset. Barberry had a good write-up in Adrian Thomas’ book Gardening For Wildlife, which initially peaked my interest.
    Thank you again for the article and keep up your excellent work.
    Russell

    1. Dear Russell, I am sorry not to have previously seen your message. How did you get on with your seeds? I hope you have grown yourself some good strong Barberry plants from them. I can send you some more seeds if you like as I recently collected a lot in Gloucestershire. I wasn’t aware of the write-up in Adrian Thomas’ book so will look that up. It really is an excellent plant for wildlife though, the flowers are extremely attractive for pollinators and what with the berries and the foliage too, it’s such a great addition to a garden.
      All the very best, Fiona

  2. Hi
    I live in Nottinghamshire where Barberry is a relatively rare shrub and have collected seed in the past and tried to grow them. I believe they are eaten by ground birds like pheasants so will be subject to grinding in the gizzard as well as stomach acid so i`ve replicated this by scarifying and placing in vinegar to encourage germination ( is this what you are doing?) I`ve had some success in getting them to grow although they are slow, but have failed to get any to establish `in the wild`
    Have you any tips on this.
    I`m hoping to work with local farmers in the area where the soils seem to be right for Barberry to get them to plant it when hedge-gapping etc and maybe establish some thickets of it. I assume we have not got the moth but it`s a very valuable plant init`s own right for pollinators

    1. Hi Lee, thanks so much for your message. That is interesting about your methods of encouraging germination as it’s not a method that I’ve come across before. I find it very interesting that even on sites where we have old established Barberry bushes which fruit really well, we never see young Barberry saplings. We’ve been following germination advice provided by our main growers – Chester Zoo and an independent consultant who we purchase the plants for the project from. Also Westonbirt Arboretum have provided advice too. I can send you their germination advice and you can see how these other methods compare? I have been following a method involving keeping the berries in the freezer for a while, then in February soaking them overnight in water to make it easier to extract the seeds from the flesh of the berries. Then I have mixed the seeds with compost and sown them directly onto the top of deep trays of compost mixed with a bit of sand. I’ve put the trays outside in a position where they get full sun for some of the day. The seeds need a period of cold to encourage germination, so this year I will sow some soon so they spend all winter outside. I’ve had problems with birds digging about in the compost trays for worms so put mesh over the top of the trays to stop this. Young plants are quite susceptible to drought but don’t seem to do well if they are waterlogged either. Liquid seaweed is a good feed for them. In the wild it is important to ensure that they aren’t swamped with competing vegetation such as Brambles, Nettles and Clematis as Barberry is slow-growing. They tend to do well in full sun or partial shade. I’ve found using mesh tree guards to be very helpful when planting small plants out in the countryside, if only to help you find the plants again! They are prone to mildew as well so if you use tree guards make sure they are mesh to encourage air circulation.

      We are also ensuring that we don’t plant closer than 20 metres to arable crops – you are probably aware of the historic issue with a species of stem rust that can spread from wheat to the Barberry, and then spread back to the next crop? We are taking a precautionary approach as we don’t have this stem rust in the UK at the moment, but have been advised by crop scientists that a distance of 20 metres from arable land should be ok. We have had to move away from gapping up hedgerows on arable land for this reason, but will plant on pasture (where some form of protection is really important – sheep love a nibble on some Barberry!).

      Good luck with your endeavours, as you say Barberry is an incredible plant for all sorts of wildlife, and there are at least 20 species of moth that feed on the leaves. When we search for the larvae by beating a proportion of the bushes, all sorts of other invertebrates fall onto the beating trays – lots of snails, shield bugs, ladybirds, spiders and sawfly larvae to name a few!

      If you would like me to send on our germination methods, please email me direct – fhaynes@butterfly-conservation.org

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