06 12/06/2013

Chester Zoo’s enor-moth task to save rare species

We're embarking on a mammoth task to reintroduce a rare native species back to the UK.

A team of experts will begin the task of planting hundreds of miles of the spiky plants in an effort to save a native endangered species – the barberry carpet moth.

Once widespread throughout the UK, the moth can now only be found in small pockets after both the moth and its main source of food – the barberry plant Berberis vulgaris – went into decline.

By planting barberry bushes along the Shropshire Union canal towpaths, linking Chester, Twycross and Dudley zoos, it is hoped the moth population will eventually increase.

Barberry Carpet Moth

The endangered Barberry Carpet Moth held by Ian Hughes from Dudley Zoo, with L-R: Glenn Young and Paul Shipsides from Chester Zoo;
and Chris John from Canal & River Trust

Horticulturists at Chester will grow 500 plants a year in their greenhouses for planting, with the whole project expected to take a number of years.

Chester’s Curator of Botany and Horticulture, Mark Sparrow, said: “It may seem that we’re going to extreme lengths to protect a moth but the barberry carpet moth is one of Britain’s 10 rarest and most threatened moth species.

“Native species of all kinds are important to UK biodiversity and a moth is no different. We need to be providing the right amounts sort of food for the moths so we grow the plants at the zoo where there’s plenty of space before they are mature enough to be planted out.”

The berberis will be planted every 100 metres along tow paths connecting the three zoos with the planting team hoping to cover 20km during the first year of the project. The Canal & River Trust will provide a barge and additional support to help the planting team begin their journey.

Barberry bush planting

A team from Chester Zoo's Horticultural Department and volunteers from the Canal & River Trust reinstating the habitat for the endangered Barberry Carpet Moth along Chester's Waterway

The plan to save the moth is the brainchild of Dudley Zoo’s native species coordinator Ian Hughes.

Ian said: "This project is part of a 20 year partnership between BIAZA zoos, Natural England and Butterfly Conservation to bring this moth back from the brink of extinction in the UK. The moth has a two generation life-cycle, overwintering as a pupa (chrysalis) it emerges in April or May as an adult with the first caterpillars appearing in June.

“The caterpillars pupate in July to produce a second wave of adults followed by more caterpillars who then overwinter as pupae. We will take advantage of the caterpillar stage to introduce the barberry carpet to its new habitat - monitoring of populations is usually conducted by counting caterpillars!"