Short List Insects - Moths


A case-bearing moth Coleophora linosyridella - Red listed and nationally rare

This small moth is in the British Isles known only from the Thames Estuary and from Berry Head in Devon. It was first found at Berry Head as recently as 2013 by Bob Heckford and Stella Beavan but is considered likely to have been a long-term native there. The larval food plant at Berry Head is Goldilocks Aster which is also a Devon Special Species (in the Thames Estuary the food plant is Sea Aster). Goldilocks Aster is under threat at Berry Head from the conflicting pressures of scrub (blackthorn) invasion in places, and intense sheep grazing in others. Although the plant remains locally frequent, in places there may have been no seedling recruitment for decades, even a century. Carefully planned management is required to ensure the long-term survival of this flower and therefore of the moth. In August 2014 a site meeting was held to take forward the conservation of the moth. Subsequently, the Devon Moth Group has drawn up an action plan for the species, which includes periodically monitoring the moth population by searching for larval cases, and liaising with the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, the managers of the site.


A leaf-mining moth Ectoedemia heckfordi - Red listed and nationally rare

This tiny moth was discovered new to science in 2004 by Bob Heckford, on Dartmoor. Here it is currently known from just five places on the southern edge of the National Park, in just six 1km squares. Otherwise its world distribution is limited, as far as is known, to one specimen from Austria! On Dartmoor it has been found at the National Trust's Hembury Woods (the type locality), Bench Tor near New Bridge (Dart Valley Woods) and in a lay-by near Buckfastleigh. The moth inhabits oak woodland, the larvae mining oak leaves, particularly those of young trees. Its conservation requires the retention of existing trees known to be used by the moth, and through planting and coppicing the creation of a succession of young oak stems of the form favoured by the moth. The Devon Moth Group has an action plan for the species which focusses on advising the National Trust and Devon Wildlife Trust of the moth and its special habitat requirements.


Image above by Barry Henwood
White spot Hadena albimacula - Near threatened and nationally rare

This moth occupies just a few sites with sea cliffs and slopes on the south coast of England between Kent and East Devon. Its distribution is restricted by that of the caterpillar's scarce food plant, Nottingham catchfly Silene nutans. In Devon the moth is known from the undercliff between Beer and Branscombe. In summer 2019, members of the Devon Moth Group, together with Butterfly Conservation and the National Trust, assessed the status of Nottingham Catchfly along this stretch of coastline. The plant was found to be locally frequent. In one place it appeared at risk from invading bramble: lack of ground disturbance and of available space along the cliff edge were, however, of bigger concern. The landowner subsequently has offered to remove the encroaching bramble and in due course to move the fence line further back from the cliff edge. Nationally, insufficient data is available to enable trends in distribution and abundance to be assessed (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020).


Image above by John Walters
Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth Hemaris tityus - Least concern and nationally scarce

Devon is a UK stronghold for this rapidly declining species: nationally its range declined by 34% between 2000 and 2016, although this was not statistically significant (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020). In Devon it now occurs almost exclusively on a small number of Rhôs pastures on Dartmoor and Culm grasslands in north-west Devon. A remarkable bumblebee mimic, this attractive moth occupies wet grasslands and fen meadows where the caterpillars feed on Devils-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis. The adults nectar on the flowers of Meadow Thistle Cirsium dissectum and other plants. The moth often occurs in the same wet grasslands as another Devon Special Species, the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, and management should aim to accommodate both species. Current trends in range and abundance of the Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth in Devon are uncertain. It is likely to be threatened not only by any loss and further fragmentation of its habitat, but also by changes in site management, in particular by any increase in sheep grazing, or by cessation of grazing altogether. Butterfly Conservation, together with the Devon Moth Group, continue to support training for advisors and land managers on the ecology of the moth and its conservation requirements. Agri-environment schemes are important for the conservation of this hawk-moth, to encourage and support land managers to maintain or reinstate appropriate management for the caterpillar’s food plant.

Further information on the species can be found here.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species



A tineid moth Infurcitinea albicomella - Red listed and nationally rare

A single locality on the coast at Torbay is the only known site for this small moth in Britain: even here populations are currently at critically low levels and the species may indeed be extinct. The larvae feed mainly on dead leaves of Small-leaved Cotoneaster Cotoneaster microphyllus and of Evergreen Oak Quercus ilex, both non-native plants, as well as general detritus. The removal of Cotoneaster to encourage the spread of rare native plants has endangered the moth’s survival, and it is no longer certain that it persists. The Devon Moth Group has written a brief action plan for the species that recognises the need for the small habitat patches formerly known to be occupied by the moth to be managed to retain suitable conditions, including the retention of Cotoneaster and the control of shading trees to prevent excessive shading. The Group plans to work with the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust to achieve this, and in 2020 will attempt to re-find the moth.


Image above by Barry Henwood
Devonshire wainscot Leucania putrescens - Least concern nationally rare

Devon is the national stronghold for this moth, with numerous sites on both north and south coasts, although it also occurs in Cornwall and south-west Wales. Nationally, the distribution of this moth declined by 35% between 2000 and 2016, although this was not statistically significant. There was insufficient data to assess changes in abundance (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020). The moth inhabits coastal slopes and cliffs, the caterpillars feeding on a range of fine-leaved grasses. Invasive scrub is a threat. Agri-environment schemes are likely to be important to facilitate scrub control, through either mechanical clearance or grazing. The Devon Moth Group’s brief action plan for the Devonshire wainscot recognises the need to provide advice to those delivering Countryside Stewardship agreements, and to those developing the new Environmental Land Management scheme, to ensure the needs of the moth are taken into account. Current trends in range and abundance in Devon are uncertain, but the moth may be declining in line with the indicative national trend.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Karen Williams
Beautiful gothic Leucochlaena oditis - Least concern nationally scarce

In the British Isles this moth only occurs in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Kent. Its national stronghold is Devon, where it is known from eight sites on the south coast. Nationally, the distribution of the Beautiful Gothic increased by 88% between 2000 and 2016, although this was not statistically significant. There was insufficient data to assess changes in abundance (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020). The main Devon sites are Berry Head, Prawle Point and Dawlish Warren. This species is found on coastal grasslands, where the larvae feed on various grass species. Current trends in range and abundance of this moth in Devon are uncertain, but it may be increasing in line with the indicative national trend. The Devon Moth Group hopes to assess the condition of its main known sites in 2020, and to provide advice to those delivering Countryside Stewardship agreements, and those developing the new Environmental Land Management scheme, to ensure the needs of the moth are taken into account, in particular through the control of scrub and introduction of appropriate grazing levels.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Barry Henwood
Scarce blackneck Lygephila craccae - Endangered and nationally rare

In the British Isles this moth only occurs in north Devon, north-east Cornwall and west Somerset. Devon is the national stronghold: here it is found at Hartland Point, Buck’s Mills, Bull Point and possibly Heddon’s Mouth (Exmoor). The Scarce Blackneck inhabits coastal cliffs and rocky slopes near the sea. The food plants are Wood Vetch Vicia sylvatica and Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca. Nationally, between 2000 and 2016 there was insufficient data to assess changes in distribution or abundance (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020). The species is thought to be threatened by natural succession, especially scrub invasion, smothering growth of the caterpillars’ food plants. The Devon Moth Group hopes to assess the condition of its main known sites in 2020, and to provide advice to those delivering Countryside Stewardship agreements, and those developing the new Environmental Land Management scheme, to ensure the needs of the moth are taken into account, in particular through the control of scrub and appropriate grazing levels.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Barry Henwood
Morris's wainscot Photedes morrisii - Vulnerable and nationally rare

Rare internationally, in the British Isles this moth is known only from a short stretch of coast running from south-east Devon into West Dorset. It is restricted to the Undercliffs between Axmouth (Haven Cliff) and a few kilometres east of Charmouth. Occurring on grassy coastal slopes and cliffs, the caterpillars feed on Tall Fescue Schedonorus arundinaceus. At Haven Cliffs, Morris's Wainscot is found right at the base of the cliffs just above the shore. This is very near habitat patches occupied by two other Devon Special Species, the cranefly Helius hispanicus and the Broad-faced Furrow Bee Lassiglossum laticeps, among many other rare invertebrates. In summer 2019, the Devon Moth Group assessed the status of the moth's food plants and threats to the habitat at Haven Cliff. No particular threats were noted, and food plant populations appeared viable. However, vigilance is required to ensure that no works such as cliff stabilization or recreational provision affect the moth's habitat. Insufficient data is available to enable trends in distribution and abundance to be assessed (Atlas of Britain and Ireland's larger moths 2020).

Further sources of information:

Devon Moth Group

National Moth Recording Scheme

Butterfly Conservation