BUTTERFLY EFFECTS - Saving the Barberry Carpet Moth
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
If you spot Estate owner Henry Edmunds around and about, it’s likely he’s doing something purposeful for the environment. Last week, he was quietly harvesting berries from a Barberry (Berberris vulgaris) bush; once a common hedgerow plant in the UK. It's not a particularly exciting shrub to look at, but to deep dive into the Common Barberry Bush, is a fascinating anthropological tramp through history, and a fine example of the delicate balance we tread when managing our farming landscape.
As well as providing a habitat and food-source for birds and invertebrates, barberries are used in Iranian cuisine (recipe attached), the bark for yellow pigment, and it has potent medicinal properties. The bush has roots in folklore where it wards off evil-spirits; perhaps useful on all-Hallows Eve! They are thought to be ‘naturalised’ but not native to the UK; according to some sources they were introduced around 500 years ago from Europe, however evidence of the plant has also been found in deposits at a Neolithic flint mine in Norfolk. It grows densely, with thorns and red berries, making it a useful hedging plant. But Barberry bushes have also been aggressively ripped from our landscape for the last 100 years or so…
The Barberry is an alternate sexual host to a fungus that causes stem rust in wheat; a cause of crop failure and famine that humans have been tackling since the time of Aristotle. The Roman’s even had a rust god, Robigus, to whom they would make sacrificial offerings. Once the link between the bush and stem rust was recognised in the 19th Century, so began the demise of our hedgerows.
The persecution of the Barberry bush has been catastrophic for pollinators, particularly the Barberry Carpet moth (Pareulype berberata), whose lifecycle is entirely dependent upon the Barberry bush.Today they are a priority species in the UK, protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, with just 12 colonies recorded in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
The importance of pollinators, particularly night-time pollinators like moths, is an area that we are only beginning to understand. Recent research suggests that pollinators help support crop yields, and in-fact in America, harvest yields are frequently limited by a lack of pollinators. So whilst the bush might pose a threat, we really need the pollinators that live on it!
Fortunate then, that folk like Henry and other volunteers are here to save the day. Henry sends the seeds from Cholderton Barberry bushes (which for some reason seem to germinate very well) to a fellow butterfly enthusiast, who cultivates and plants them out all over the country as part of the ‘back from the brink’ scheme. In Henry’s words ‘A small step in the race to restore some biodiversity to the beleaguered British countryside’.
Recipe of the month | Persian Barberry Rice
Wash 2 cups of basmati rice, cover with water, add a little salt, and leave to soak for at least an hour.
Drain the rice and add it to a pan of boiling salted water. Cook for 12 minutes, then drain.
return the rice to the pan, with a tablespoon of oil and a splash of water. Cook covered for 20 minutes on the lowest setting.
Meanwhile dissolve a pinch of saffron in some water, and set-aside.
In a small pan, boil the finely sliced rind of an orange in some water for 2 minutes. Drain and return to the pan with 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Dissolve and simmer until the water is evaporated.
Heat some oil in a medium pan, and soften 1 finely sliced onion, adding 1/4 cup of flaked almonds after 3 minutes. Once both browned, add the orange rind followed by 1/2 cup of rehydrated barberries. Stir. Sprinkle over 1/2 a tablespoon of sugar. Stir. Add 3 tablespoons of saffron liquid and 1/2 a teaspoon of rose water.
Fluff the rice and stir the remaining saffron liquid into it. Assemble the dish by layering the rice and the zeresck mixture. Garnish with some rose petals.
The Cholderton Estate Trust was established in 2018 with the objectives of protecting and improving the environment, and advancing education in environmental and ecological matters, through the promotion of organic and sustainable farming, land management and conservation practices on The Cholderton Estate.