Rare moths found on South Downs: Here’s how you can help the striped lychnis flourish

New populations of a rare moth have been discovered at the West Harting Down Forestry England and Harting Down National Trust sites.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 2:44 pm

Volunteers from Butterfly Conservation found the striped lychnis moth colonies during a project funded by the John Spedan Lewis Foundation.

Fiona Haynes, conservation officer for the project said: “The discovery of these nine population sites is exciting and encouraging news and we’re optimistic that this species might continue to grow in numbers in the coming years.

“We’re very grateful for the support of the John Spedan Lewis Foundation for allowing us to carry out this important conservation work.”

Striped lychnis moth caterpillar. Picture: Fiona Haynes
Striped lychnis moth caterpillar. Picture: Fiona Haynes

The other sites include Old Winchester Hill and Beacon Hill NNRs, as well as several woodland areas and farms.

Striped lychnis lay their eggs on dark mullein, a plant with tall flower spikes of yellow flowers with pink stamens which is most commonly found on chalky soils, and the caterpillars feed on the flowers before pupating on the plant.

Dark Mullein used to be more widespread but due to changes in land use and habitat fragmentation it is now more often than not seen on road verges.

If these verges are cut between May and August it wipes out the food for the caterpillars, and colonies can be lost or severely impacted in this way.

Striped Lychnis moth adult. Picture: Pete Hall

Anyone can buy seed and grow dark mullein in their garden to provide a safe haven for these special moths and benefit a wide range of invertebrates.

If you do grow this plant and spot caterpillars or adult striped lychnis moths Butterfly Conservation urges people to send their sightings via the iRecord app, downloadable from butterfly-conservation.org/mysightings

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