Moth Bonanza – Orlestone Forest

Orlestone Forest is a very large area of ancient woodland sandwiched between Ashford and Romney Marsh.

Kent Wildlife Trust have been working in the area for many years, looking after a handful of small woodlands with or on behalf of private owners.

These sites are regularly watched over by a dedicated group of moth enthusiasts.

A look in any book about UK moths reveals Orlestone Forest to be one of the best places for woodland moths anywhere in the UK, with some species occurring which breed nowhere else.

One of the regulars moth enthusiasts, Ade Jupp, decided to try moth trapping in one of the Trust managed woods which often gets overlooked to see what would occur.

Moth surveying involves setting up a bright ultraviolet light at night, using a dedicated box trap to collect moths or alternatively hanging a white sheet for the insects to settle on.

The moths are attracted by the light and can be easily captured, identified and released unharmed.

Ade said “I popped in to trap the wood at very short notice, and it turned out to be a very worthwhile visit”.

In a haul of 45 species he found four that were not only the first records for this wood, but nationally rare.

There were three Red Data Book species (beautiful pearl, olive crescent and scarce merveille du jour) and one nationally scarce (clay fan-foot).

Red Data Book species are those which are recognised as nationally threatened in Great Britain.

However, the beautiful pearl is listed as a Red Data Book Category 1 species, which is the highest threat category.

This is the first time this hornbeam feeding species has been recorded in this wood, but a number have turned up recently in other nearby sites - the first records in the area since a single one in the 1990s.

It is therefore hoped that a population may have become established over a wide area of the forest.

In recent years its only known UK site has been in Blean Woods to the North of Canterbury and little is known about the species' precise requirements which means that further work is necessary to help conserve it.

Since this trapping session another nationally scarce species, the festoon, has also been found in the same wood.

Kent Wildlife Trust and the volunteers have been working hard over many years to restore these areas of woodland through reintroduction of coppicing and opening up glades and paths, and it is very rewarding to see that the work is appreciated by the wildlife it was intended for.

62 moth species became extinct in Britain during the twentieth century and many more species are considered now to be nationally threatened or scarce.

The decline of common moths is likely to have a significant impact on predators such as farmland birds and bats.