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Rise in sightings of rare ‘holy grail’ moth

PUBLISHED: 14:42 01 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:08 01 October 2019

There has been an increase in sightings of the Clifden nonpareil moth in East Anglia  Photo: Andrew Cooper/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

There has been an increase in sightings of the Clifden nonpareil moth in East Anglia Photo: Andrew Cooper/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

Conservationists in East Anglia are reporting an increase in sightings of a rare moth that is widely considered to be one of the largest and most spectacular insects native to the UK.

The Clifden nonpareil moth, whose name means beyond compare Photo: Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation/PA WireThe Clifden nonpareil moth, whose name means beyond compare Photo: Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

The Clifden nonpareil, whose name means "beyond compare", 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.

The Butterfly Conservation charity says it has long been regarded as "a holy grail" among moth enthusiasts and there have been numerous sightings across Wales and the south of England this year including a rise of reports in Norfolk and Suffolk.

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Suffolk's county moth recorder, Neil Sherman said; "Clifden nonpareil has been noted 15 times in the county this year so far, going up dramatically from only a handful of records historically in Suffolk. It's certainly a big spectacular moth that we are pleased to have as an addition to our fauna."

Committee member for the Norfolk branch of Butterfly Conservation, Kiri Stuart-Clarke, said four Clifden nonpareils had been seen in the county and there were hopes that the total number of sightings will top the record of seven noted in the peak year of 1976. She added: "It has been seen on the North Norfolk coast and also inland at Ridlington and Lyng. It is a mysterious moth as it lives high up in aspen and poplar trees, so it is difficult to see the eggs or caterpillars, and counting the adult moths is the best way to find out if numbers are increasing."

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While the Clifden nonpareils seen in East Anglia are migrants from Europe, the rise in the number of sightings further south in England has led conservationists to believe the moth is breeding in the UK for the first time since the 1960s.

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