News story

Rare moth thriving at Northern Ireland training centre

One of the UK's rarest moths is thriving in the heart of a military training area in Northern Ireland, according to a recent survey.

The Scarce Crimson and Gold moth [Picture: Crown copyright]
The Scarce Crimson and Gold moth

The annual Scarce Crimson and Gold moth survey took place at Magilligan Training Centre, near Coleraine, County Londonderry.

Staff from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which runs the training area, welcomed the survey team to Magilligan.

The survey team consisted of staff from the Northern Ireland branch of Butterfly Conservation and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, accompanied by a student from the University of Ulster at Coleraine who is doing her final year project on the moth.

Catherine Bertrand from Butterfly Conservation said:

We’d like to thank the DIO staff at Magilligan Training Centre for allowing us access to the training area to carry out our annual survey. The staff were, as ever, polite, friendly and very helpful.

The findings and records from our survey have been sent to the Northern Ireland volunteer moth verifier, who will add the records to the national database once they have been checked.

The survey involved setting 8 battery-powered moth traps across the middle and eastern part of the training area.

Overnight, 7 Scarce Crimson and Gold moths were trapped and, together with daytime searches, the survey team reported a healthy population. They also noted a large area of suitable habitat, making Magilligan Training Centre one of the ‘heartlands’ for this species.

Talking about the survey and the Scarce Crimson and Gold moth, a DIO spokesperson said:

DIO’s main priority is to support our Armed Forces and their allies as they prepare for operations. The military training estate is diverse in nature and not only does it offer the necessary conditions for soldiers to train, but also the conditions for a number of rare species of flora and fauna to thrive.

The nature of Magilligan Training Centre means that it offers the ideal habitat for the Scarce Gold and Crimson moth to survive and flourish, and we are proud to be able to support the survey team in their work and protect this rare species.

The Scarce Crimson and Gold is a tiny, brightly-coloured moth – one of the rarest in the UK. It flies throughout June and is only known to live in a handful of sites along the north coast of Northern Ireland and on one site on the Isle of Man.

The moth requires wild Thyme for its caterpillars to feed on, and nectars on a variety of plants associated with the early successional stages of sandy dune blow-outs, especially Kidney Vetch.

The Cryptic Wood White butterfly, one of Northern Ireland’s priority species, was also observed during the survey along with colonies of the Small Eggar.

This is another priority moth species whose caterpillars create conspicuous, fist-sized webs on blackthorn, but which also has a very limited distribution in Northern Ireland.

Magilligan Training Centre is maintained by DIO, which delivers the Training Service, enabling defence training users to live, work, train and deploy at home and overseas.

The training area is 3,000 acres in size, of which some 600 acres are set aside for military training without live ammunition. The land consists mostly of sand dunes and grazing land set in the most dramatic scenery along the north coast of Northern Ireland.

Published 9 July 2013