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'Holy grail' rare moth spotted in Norfolk - 50 years after it was believed extinct

PUBLISHED: 10:01 26 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:52 27 September 2019

The Clifden Nonpareil moth, thought to have been extinct in Britain for 50 years, has been spotted in Norfolk and Suffolk this summer. Picture: Andrew Cooper/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

The Clifden Nonpareil moth, thought to have been extinct in Britain for 50 years, has been spotted in Norfolk and Suffolk this summer. Picture: Andrew Cooper/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

A rare moth that was thought to have been extinct in Britain for 50 years has been spotted again in East Anglia, conservationists have revealed.

The Clifden Nonpareil moth, thought to have been extinct in Britain for 50 years, has now recolonised and is breeding again. Picture:  Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation/PA WireThe Clifden Nonpareil moth, thought to have been extinct in Britain for 50 years, has now recolonised and is breeding again. Picture: Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

The Clifden nonpareil, whose name means "beyond compare", is one of the largest and most spectacular moths native to the UK but was believed to have become extinct in the 1960s.

The moth has a wingspan that can reach almost 12cm and a bright blue stripe across its black hindwings, which gives rise to an alternative name of the blue underwing.

Conservationists said it has long been regarded as a "holy grail" among moth enthusiasts and there have been numerous sightings this year across the south of England, where it has recolonised and is breeding again, and it has also been spotted in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Richard Fox, from the charity Butterfly Conservation, said: "The Clifden nonpareil is a fantastic addition to our wildlife and it is great to know that it is resident again in the UK.

"Its caterpillars feed unnoticed up in the canopies of aspen and poplar trees, so the adult moths are the best indication of how widely established this species now is.

"This year, the Clifden nonpareil is turning up all over southern Britain, in the Midlands, East Anglia and Wales, in Ceredigion and Monmouthshire, as well as in south coast counties.

"There's never been a better chance of a thrilling encounter with this impressive insect."

People are being asked to record sightings of the Clifden nonpareil and other moths as part of the annual Moth Night, which runs from September 26 to 28.

Mark Tunmore, founder of Moth Night, said Clifden nonpareil sightings have already been reported in counties including Norfolk and Suffolk this year via migrant insect news service Flight Arrivals.

"When we started Moth Night 20 years ago, this moth was a very rare immigrant but it is now becoming familiar to moth enthusiasts across southern Britain.

"This illustrates just how quickly change can take place and that's why moths are such a fascinating group of insects to study."

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