By Russell Wynn, 04 May 2016
The Sloe Carpet is a rather unspectacular moth that feeds on Blackthorn and flies in spring (particularly April) when the food plant is in flower. Although Blackthorn is relatively abundant and widespread in the UK, the moth is very local and is in fact a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species. Over the last 25 years almost all Hampshire records have come from dedicated searches in the New Forest, with the Brockenhurst and Ringwood areas being particular hotspots (see links below for details).
On 19 April 2016, Marcus and I were invited to join Simon Curson and Mark Larter of Natural England, and Pete Durnell of Hampshire County Council Countryside Service, in an evening search for Sloe Carpet in the Rhinefield area of the New Forest. As this is a species I have never seen before, despite regular moth trapping in my Brockenhurst garden for the last nine years, I was keen to participate.
We arrived an hour or so before dusk, and transferred to an area of damp heathland and grassland with scattered Blackthorn bushes. After setting up a couple of portable moth traps in likely locations, and getting buzzed by a roding Woodock, we commenced our search. The technique involved careful searching of flowering Blackthorn bushes using a torch (or in my case a headlamp), with the aim of picking out the reflective wings of the moth.
Remarkably, after only a few minutes, I picked out a likely suspect and was able to carefully box it before it flew. It was indeed a Sloe Carpet, my first, and what would turn out to be the only one of the night. As the temperature plummeted under a clear and darkening sky, it was clear that moth activity was subdued, although hearing Oystercatcher and Teal overhead was a bonus. So after a couple of hours we decided to head for home, but not before finding a smart Oak Beauty in of the traps.
Thanks to Simon, Mark and Pete for sharing their experience, and now we know the methods we will likely try a couple of other potential sites later this spring or next year. Further information on Sloe Carpet at the links below: