Peatland biodiversity - butterflies & moths

May 5, 2019

At Butterfly Conservation we understand the great value of healthy functioning peatlands for biodiversity. While much of the focus is on the specialised plants found on peat bogs, there are a number of butterflies and moths which are associated with bogs too. Some of them are there because their caterpillar foodplants only grow on bogs; the caterpillars of the Large Heath butterfly Coenonympha tullia, for example, feed almost exclusively on Hare’s-tail Cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum). This butterfly is now only found in the north and west of the UK and Ireland, with our data showing a 58% contraction in range since the mid-1970s.

Large heath butterfly and yellow underwing moth

Peatlands are also home to hundreds of species of moth. Some are easily recognised like the spectacular Emperor Moth Saturnia pavonia, the caterpillars of which feed on heathers and the species is still quite widespread. Yet populations of others are threatened in some areas, including species like the Manchester Treble-Bar, Wood Tiger and Beautiful Yellow Underwing. In some parts of Scotland these species are very vulnerable, and rely almost entirely upon lowland raised bogs.

Emperor moth caterpillar and adult male

Unfortunately many of our bogs are in a very poor state. 

Lowland raised bogs have declined by over 90% in their area in Scotland in the last century alone. Many of them were drained for agriculture or forestry planting, and some continue to be exploited for peat to be used in horticulture.

Butterfly Conservation’s ‘Bog Squad’ has been organising teams of volunteers to help restore lowland raised bogs across Scotland for five years. Funded by Peatland ACTION, the Bog Squad has worked to restore 120 hectares of bog, bringing sites into better condition by installing dams, which help to rewet bogs. This encourages Sphagnum mosses that help to maintain boggy conditions and drive the peat formation process. Volunteers also remove invasive scrub like rhododendron, pine and birch, which can further dry out bogs over time and shade out vital Sphagnum moss species.

To raise awareness of the importance of peat bogs, Butterfly Conservation will be launching a campaign this spring, reminding people of the places they are and what they can do to help protect them. For more information, visit https://butterfly-conservation.org/ gopeatfree

Anthony McCluskey, Butterfly Conservation Scotland. 

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