Treasure hunters wanted to help find one of the rarest jewels in NI wildlife

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People in Northern Ireland are being asked to join a giant treasure hunt for one of its rarest and most enchanting animals.

National wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation is asking nature lovers to look for the jewel-like Forester moth from this week onwards.

The iridescent blue-green insect was once common across the UK, but now in Northern Ireland has just one known breeding site left.

Butterfly Conservation has teamed up with Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) to produce a first-of-its-kind free-to-download digital booklet with colourful pictures and informative illustrations to help people look for the elusive insect.

Forester moth on a clover flower. Photo: Iain LeachForester moth on a clover flower. Photo: Iain Leach
Forester moth on a clover flower. Photo: Iain Leach

Rose Cremin, Butterfly Conservation’s conservation manager for Northern Ireland, said: “I absolutely love the Forester: it has beautiful, metallic green wings that shimmer like opal and change colour so it sometimes looks blue and sometimes yellow.

“We want to protect it for its own sake, but actually if we can provide more of the habitat it needs, full of wildflowers like orchids and Ragged Robin, this will be great for other rare moths and butterflies like the Marsh Fritillary, and threatened birds like the Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler and Cuckoo.”

The Forester moth lives in grassland and its caterpillars feed on Common Sorrel and Sheep’s Sorrel. Adults drink nectar from a range of flowers.

Although it is still found in places across Britain and Ireland and the continent, like hundreds of other species it has suffered widespread decline because its habitat has been lost to development or converted to farmland.

Forester MothForester Moth
Forester Moth

Thirty years ago, the Forester had multiple known breeding sites across Northern Ireland, but since 2020 this has been reduced to just one location in mid-Ulster. Over the past two years, Butterfly Conservation has been maintaining the habitat at that site and carefully monitoring the population.

However, the charity believes the Forester might still have other unknown populations that could now be protected.

The NBDC, as part of its All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, has been producing a series of Rare Species Guides to help people look for and look after insects such as the Great Yellow Bumblebee, but this is the first it has produced on a moth.

Dr Úna FitzPatrick, chief scientific officer at the National Biodiversity Data Centre, said: “We are only beginning to realise how important moths are as nocturnal pollinators, and we are delighted to collaborate with Butterfly Conservation in highlighting the plight of this beautiful rare insect.”

Forester moth guideForester moth guide
Forester moth guide

Rose added: “You can download this guide on your phone then go for a family walk in the countryside or at a nature reserve. The caterpillars' foodplant will indicate if you’re in suitable habitat so look out for flowering Common Sorrel which looks similar to Dock. If you want to look on private land, you must get the land owner's permission.

“Activities like this are a fantastic way to get people engaged with nature, and even if you don't find a Forester, you can have loads of fun looking and you might be surprised by what you do see. If you do see one and you're able to get a photo of it, that would be amazing.”

The Forester, unlike many moths, flies during the daytime and is on the wing in May, June and July.

People can download the Forester Rare Pollinator Guide, as well as a poster and a signage template at pollinators.ie/helping-endangered-pollinators.

Anyone who thinks they have seen a forester is asked to contact Rose with an exact location and a photograph if possible by emailing [email protected].

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