In search of the Sloe Carpet

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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.

 

The Sloe Carpet search party awaiting the onset of darkness
The Sloe Carpet search party awaiting the onset of darkness

 

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.

 

Sloe Carpet habitat, comprising scattered flowering Blackthorn bushes
Sloe Carpet habitat, comprising scattered flowering Blackthorn bushes along a ride

 

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.

 

Our one and only Sloe Carpet of the night - it won't win any prizes in the beauty stakes, but nice to find this rare species close to home
Our one and only Sloe Carpet of the night – it won’t win any prizes in the beauty stakes, but nice to find this rare species close to home

 

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:

http://butterfly-conservation.org/files/1.sloe-carpet-species-factsheet.pdf

http://hantsiow-butterflies.org.uk/moths/Searching%20for%20Sloe%20Carpet.pdf

http://www.hantsmoths.org.uk/species/1959.php