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Moth makes comeback after eighty five year absence

Thursday 17th August 2017

Plume moth (c) Stephen YoungsPlume moth (c) Stephen Youngs

A moth that has not been recorded in Hertfordshire since 1930 has once again been spotted at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Hexton Chalk Pit Nature Reserve.

The plume moth, Merrifieldia leucodactyla, also known as the thyme plume due to its diet of wild thyme, was last recorded in Hertfordshire in 1930.

Colin Plant, County Moth Recorder recorded the moth at Hexton Chalk Pit in July. Colin has worked with Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for a number of years, advising and recording on several sites around the county.

Colin said: “This is a very exciting recording. Given that the last recording in 1930 was pre-myxomatosis and pre the WWII "Dig for Victory" campaign, it would suggest that there was probably a lot more calcareous (chalky) grassland in the area at that time – a habitat that the plume moth’s foodplant wild thyme thrives in. From the Trust’s Herts Environmental Record Centre’s habitat mapping, we know that the area across the road from Hexton Chalk Pit, where the last record was most likely taken, was chalky habitat. We can assume that since 1930, the species has found a pocket of suitable habitat at the Trust’s nature reserve. “

Luke Shenton, Hexton Chalk Pit Nature Reserve’s Officer, said: “We are thrilled that our management of the reserve to maintain an area of open calcareous grassland has had such a positive impact on this special moth. Our management and volunteers’ hard work has meant that wild thyme can thrive on the reserve has saved the Plume moth from going locally extinct.”