by Susannah O'Riordan
Susannah is based at Top Lodge, Fineshade, managing the successful re-introduction of the Chequered Skipper butterfly for Butterfly Conservation. The Building the Links for Rockingham Forest Project has allowed Butterfly Conservation to expand their work, introducing more people to the world of day flying moths and, in particular, the rare Liquorice Piercer. (More details.)
Here Susannah describes some of that work, focussing what has been going on at Weldon Woodland Park, one of the Corby Woodlands.
This winter we’ve been hard at work in Weldon Woodland Park, improving habitat for one of my favourite moths, the Liquorice Piercer Grapholita pallifrontana. This rare micro-moth (about 1cm long) is blackish-brown in colour with pale yellow streaks across its wings, and is named for its caterpillar’s habit of piercing the pods of Wild Liquorice, its only food-plant. Whilst Wild Liquorice is quite an easy plant to recognise, (once you know what to look for!) it isn’t very common. Hence the rarity of the moth that relies on it.
Picture of the Liquorice Piercer Grapholita pallifrontana. Photo by Ben Sale for Butterfly Conservation
We were really excited to come across several Wild Liquorice plants in the summer of 2022 when we were doing some butterfly monitoring at Weldon. So last year we went back to see if we could find the moth. It’s a day-flying moth, and the best time to look for it is on sunny afternoons in late May to early July, when the males can be seen flying around the tops of the plants.
On our first couple of visits to the site, we didn’t have any success in finding it, but on a lovely sunny afternoon in June we popped in on our way back from another site and found five in a short space of time.
So exciting! We were able to pop one in a pot and have a really close look at this very rare moth, before returning it to the liquorice. We were also lucky enough to spot a Dingy Skipper butterfly, one of our rarer butterflies, which was the first time it had been recorded at that site.
There was a lot more Wild Liquorice than I remembered, which was fantastic to see, but much of it was in danger of becoming overgrown by scrub and trees which would make it unsuitable for the moth.
So this winter we have teamed up with the lovely Corby Woodland Project team from North Northants Council and their group of fabulous volunteers to clear some of the scrub around the Wild Liquorice.
In this part of the site there is also plenty of the plant Bird’s-foot Trefoil, which is the food-plant for the Dingy Skipper butterfly. So clearing scrub here will also be beneficial for this species (along with lots of other insects) by creating the sunny open habitat with bare ground patches that this butterfly prefers.
We’ll have had four work parties this winter and with such a great team, have completed an amazing amount of work. Here's a couple of before and after pictures to give you some idea of the open spaces we've created.
A huge thank you to all the staff and volunteers that have been involved. The areas we’ve cleared will now be kept open through rotational cutting, ensuring that the habitat doesn’t all get cut at the same time and creating more variety in the vegetation to provide refuge areas for butterflies and moths.
Our last work party for this winter is next Tuesday (13th February), so please come and join us if you’d like to help.
We’re looking forward to seeing how the areas we’ve cleared look in the spring and summer and we’ll be arranging a walk in June to give people the opportunity to try to see some of the species that we’re trying to help, as well as to look for other butterflies and moths that are making use of this wonderful site. This event will be open to everyone, so please keep an eye out for the event on the Rockingham Forest Vision events page if you’d like to come and join us.