Fisher’s Estuarine Moth Breeding Programme
Mission: To provide a readily available supply of Fisher’s Estuarine Moths for introduction at newly-created sites to ensure the long-term survival of this species.
Species: Fisher's Estuarine moth
Location:Colchester Zoo, Essex
Support started: April 2008
Background: The Fisher’s Estuarine Moth is a British species of high conservation priority;with the current population at 25% below the favourable reference population size. As a result, the moth is legally protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, is listed in the British Red Data Book and has an Essex Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
The moth is competely reliant on Hog's Fennal as its sole larval food plant; a plant species which is also threatened. It is also reliant on long coarse grass species to fulfil its egg laying requirements. Favoured grasses for egg laying include Cock's-foot and False oat-grass.
In the UK Hog’s Fennel is limited to two main localities; the north Essex coast and the north Kent coast. Suitable habitat for the plant is dwindling, due to rising sea levels along the coast lone, mowing of the plant and trampling by dog walkers.
In 2006, a project was set up to plant up a sustainable landscape-scale network of Hog's fennel sites. To date, over 20 sites have been created along the Essex coast line.
In 2008, Colchester Zoo teamed up with Tendring District Council, Natural England and Writtle College to initiate the captive breeding programme for the Fisher’s Estuarine Moth at Colchester Zoo. This will enable the species to be established at the newly created sites of Hog's fennel, without necessitating the translocation from naturally occurring sites where populations are relatively small and vulnerable. The breeding programme will thus provide a readily available supply of moths that will ensure the sustainability of the programme for the long-term.
Initially, 40 breeding cages were established in an off show location at Colchester Zoo, a rabbit proof mesh was built around the nets and a Hog's fennel plant and grass species were placed in each cage, to fulfil the moths life history requirements. Eggs were collected under licence from Skipper's Island Nature Reserve, an Essex Wildlife Trust site. The caterpillars subsequently hatch in April and are immediately placed onto a Hog's fennel plant, where they remain feeding throughout the summer until pupation. Adult moths then emerge in September and Colchester Zoo keepers ensure unrelated pairs are mixed for mating. Resulting eggs are then used for the following year's captive breeding programme and any additional eggs are released into the newly created sites. To date, eggs have been released annually since 2009.
Due to problems experienced with weathering of the original breeding cages, 40 new permanent enclosures were constructed at the start of 2012.
Since the release of the eggs into the wild, signs of caterpillar feeding and adult moths have been seen at the new sites. In addition to this work, surveys conducted by Tendring District Council have also shown a high number of moths recorded at an existing sites, evidence of the spread of the moths within such sites and even sightings of the caterpillar feeding signs and of an adult moth on Hog's fennel plants away from existing colonies, which had not been populated by the breeding programme. This news shows the moth is capable of extending its range naturally.
Future objectives:: That within 10 years, a network of interconnected sites for the moth will have been created at areas away from the dangers of flooding.
Fishers Estuarine Moth picture © Micky Andrews
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