Dear Readers, you will remember that although I am definitely a Londoner, my second allegiance is to the County of Dorset, which was home to my Mum and Dad for almost twenty years, and which I have fallen in love with. So, it gives me great pleasure to report on the success of a project to bring back the Barberry Carpet Moth (Pareulype berberata). The caterpillars of the moth feed only on the leaves of the Barberry plant (Berberis vulgaris), which could have been introduced to the UK in Neolithic times, and which was once widely used as hedging. Sadly, the plant was found to harbour a species of rust which could infect cereal crops, and so Barberry was dug up all over the country. As the plant went, so did the moth. Some insect species feed on many different types of plants, but some, like the Barberry Carpet Moth, were extremely specific.
Butterfly Conservation included this species in its ‘Back from the Brink’ programme. By the time it was featured, there were only ten small populations in the whole of the UK. Most cereal varieties are now rust-resistant, and so the danger to foodstuffs from Barberry was minimal. So, the charity set itself the aim of planting nearly 4000 Barberry plants over a four year period, as close to the Dorset population as possible – this included Blandford Forum, one of Mum and Dad’s favourite spots for a bit of shopping. Local people were invited to get a plant for free and plant it in their garden, or in a local community amenity such as a churchyard or school garden. Volunteers also planted Barberry in various sites agreed with landowners, at the edge of forests or in other suitable sites.
And a few weeks ago, it was reported that Barberry Carpet caterpillars had been found in much increased numbers in one of the planted sites, Blandford Forest. 50 caterpillars were found, up from 14 in 2018. This is a very hopeful sign, although clearly more needs to be done. It does go to show what can happen when communities recognise a problem and start to do something about it, which always cheers me up. Fingers crossed that the Barberry Carpet continues to re-establish itself, with a little bit of help from us.