What’s on : Lectures

Seeking wisdom for a sustainable future through the history of a rare York moth.

28 Jan 2020
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Dr Peter Mayhew, University of York
Seeking wisdom for a sustainable future through the history of a rare York moth.

Event Information

Seeking wisdom for a sustainable future through the history of a rare York moth.
Dr Peter Mayhew, Biology Department, University of York

The Dark Bordered Beauty moth is one of Britain’s rarest insects, and its last English population is at Strensall Common near York. When I joined the conservation effort at Strensall in 2013, it sparked a love for the species and the place where it still survives, and a curiosity about the longer-term story to which I was contributing. Through investigating archive materials, old journal articles and museum collections, that story has gradually revealed itself. People have been making pilgrimage to the York population of this moth for nearly 200 years, and the species has been a nexus through which the lives of a remarkable array of historical characters has passed; some famous, others hardly known but nonetheless remarkable. The story of York’s Dark Bordered Beauty is a story of humanity’s effects on the natural world, of its striving for knowledge and understanding, but also of the value and meaning of a life spent in beautiful places and shared with remarkable species. Through stories like these we may find the inspiration and understanding to sustain us through a challenging future.

Image credit: Peter Mayhew: Dark Bordered Beauty female, Strensall Common, 9th July 2018

Member’s report

The notebooks and collections of passionate lepidopterists from the early 19th century onwards provide a valuable record of the range, life cycle, populations, and also genetic variations and aberrations of moths and butterflies. They provide evidence of the effects over time on rare species of decline of habitat, the possible effects of climate change and probably also of excessive collection. They also serve to maintain a continuity of connection between places, species and people, now and in the past.

The Dark Bordered Beauty (Epione vespertaria), though always rare, had populations in scattered locations across most of England until the 20th century. It is now confined to a few places in the Scottish Highlands and northern England. It was one of a large number of moths that used to throng Strensall Common and nearby Sandburn Wood, but no longer. Loss of habitat to agriculture and grazing may be why. It likes lowland heaths, mixed woodland and well-managed wild areas. Its favourite food is creeping willow, which now has to be protected from grazing sheep on Strensall Common, where the moth survives most successfully in the restricted military area.

Carole Smith