Fiona Haynes, Conservation Officer for Back from the Brink and Butterfly Conservation, is appealing for help around Blandford Forum, Stourpaine, Pimperne, Durweston and Shillingstone.The national charity Butterfly Conservation are working on a project in Dorset to help an extremely rare moth – the Barberry Carpet or Pareulype berberata. This is one of Britain’s most threatened species with only ten known colonies left in the UK, mostly around North Wiltshire but with single colonies in Gloucestershire, Dorset and Oxfordshire too. It is a Red Data Book species and is so rare that you need a licence to survey for it. Therefore, although you may have heard of it you are very lucky if you have ever seen this stunning species! There is a National Heritage Lottery Funded Back from the Brink Project, one of 19 projects (see https://naturebftb.co.uk), which aims to help this species by creating lots of additional suitable habitat to enable populations to recover.
Why is the Barberry Carpet so rare? This medium-sized moth is a victim of collateral damage. Its larvae will only feed on the leaves of Common Barberry or Berberis vulgaris. Common Barberry is affected by a species of stem rust that has infected cereal crops in the past. Consequently, the plant has been removed on a grand scale to protect wheat crops. Today, rust-resistant wheat varieties have solved this problem and we know from our work with crop scientists that by avoiding planting close to arable land we can avoid issues in the future… but time is running out for the Barberry Carpet Moth.
Common Barberry is either a native species to Britain, or an archaeophyte (i.e. an introduction in ancient times), some sources disagree. What we do know is that it has been in Britain since at least Neolithic times though as it has been found in deposits at Grimes Graves in Norfolk. It was cultivated in medieval times and the berries make an excellent jam. The berries are also popular with birds and the fragrant yellow flowers attract a wide range of pollinators, including Barberry Carpet moth. It is closely related to other Berberis species that you can buy in garden centres, but these cultivars aren’t suitable for the Barberry Carpet.
Please get involved – We have so far planted around 1700 Barberries over the last 2 winters. We are now in year 3 of the 4 year project and have an ambitious target of planting 1000 more Barberry plants before March 2020! We need to plant very close to the remaining colony so that the species stand a chance of colonising new plantings, and therefore the target area is around the settlements of Blandford Forum, Stourpaine, Pimperne, Durweston and Shillingstone. If you live in our target area and have space in your garden or on your land for a few plants, please get in touch. We are also looking for community spaces such as village greens, village hall gardens, churchyards and schools. Planting locations need to be at least 20 metres from arable land and the plant fares well in full sun or partial shade. It can grow on a range of soil types but we are looking for areas that don’t flood regularly over the winter, due to the fact that the species pupates underground close to the foodplant. Common Barberry does well on its own, planted in clumps, or is a good hedgerow plant. It is a slow growing plant though, so you’ll need to be able to give the plants a little aftercare for the first few years. This could be watering during drought years or removing vigorous competing vegetation such as Brambles and Clematis so that young plants aren’t smothered. Over many years Barberry can reach a maximum height of about 10 foot tall but they are easily kept smaller by pruning.
Common Barberry plants are grown by specialist growers for the project, and Butterfly Conservation can deliver them to you free of charge, and may be able to help plant them. The Barberry Carpet Project runs volunteer tasks through the winter planting Barberry, as well as summer moth survey events. If you know of any suitable areas for some planting, please feel free to suggest them. If you would like further information or to volunteer, please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or 07483 039323. There is a Barberry Carpet Moth Facebook page too