Rare moth makes welcome return to native Kerry woodland

‘Mysterious’ species thought to have been extinct in Britain and Ireland reappears

White Prominent, rare and beautiful moth, thought to have been a figment of imagination but rediscovered in Glencar, valley west of Killarney. Photograph: Ralf Wolf

White Prominent, rare and beautiful moth, thought to have been a figment of imagination but rediscovered in Glencar, valley west of Killarney. Photograph: Ralf Wolf

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An uncommon moth once believed to have died out in Ireland is being sighted in increasing numbers in a remote area of native woodland in Glencar, Co Kerry.

The White Prominent moth Leucodonta bicoloria, a snow-white moth with orange markings, was “one of those mysterious, iconic species” thought to be extinct in Britain and Ireland, according to the ecologists who rediscovered it a decade ago.

Prior to that the moth had been last recorded here in 1938 in birch woodlands on Robert’s Island, owned by the exclusive Ard na Sidhe Hotel on the eastern edge of Caragh Lake near Killorglin.

The search for the moth had never ceased but with no sighting in 70 years, some felt it was “a figment of everyone’s imagination”, according to Dr Paul Waring. He is a member of the Northern Ireland based environmental team sponsored by the Heritage Council of Great Britain who made the rediscovery in early June 2008.

The hotel gave permission to the Belfast-based Allen and Mellon ecological consultants to explore and set traps in and around the mature white-barked birch still found to exist in the area.

Since then, other native woodland stands throughout the Glencar valley, including that of oak and willow, have revealed the presence of the rare species.

This year the team, which carries out regular updates, recorded 34 White Prominents.

Species disturbed

The valley which still has stands of mature native oak, birch and willow, in spite of felling, and sterile pine forestry plantations, has been found to have 76 different moth species, some of which they need more work to identify.

The discovery has been kept largely quiet amid fears the privately owned woods would be overrun and the species disturbed.

But the moth has brought business and distinction to the region. And walkers along with climbers are warned not to be surprised to see traps on midsummer nights.

Glencar is now on the map of lepidopterists throughout Europe, according to locals.

Joan Breen of Blackstones B&B on the banks of the Caragh River and the owner of Blackstones oak wood where the moth has also been found, said most people in the valley know about the moth, although it had not received much publicity.

“I think there are fears too much outside publicity could harm it and the woodlands which are preserved under the habitats directives.”

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