With the high tourist season just around the corner, English Heritage has its hands full.
As the charity tasked with managing 400 of England’s most iconic historic sites — from medieval castles to sprawling country estates to enigmatic prehistoric monuments with a few dozen priories, abbeys, follies, turrets, forts, manors, chapels, walls, bridges, windmills, tombs, gatehouses and high-traffic crumbling ruins in between — the weeks leading up to Easter and beyond that, summer, are busy ones for English Heritage.
And as is customary during these maintenance- and housekeeping-focused days, English Heritage’s curators and conservationist scientists are focusing much of their attention on carpets. Yes, carpets. And upholstered furniture, drapery, bedding, wall hangings and stuffed storks — anything that dreaded moth larvae might be tempted to nibble on if they haven't so already.
You see, the prevention and eradication of fabric-destroying webbing clothes moths is routine for English Heritage staffers around this time of year, particularly at historic castles and country houses filled to the brim with priceless artifacts that are vulnerable to the indiscriminately munching mouths of Tineola bisselliella. It’s part of the job.
But as the Telegraph reports, this year there’s a new urgency to the “perennial headache” of keeping English Heritage properties moth-free. Earlier this month, the charity announced that the presence of the destructive pests has grown twofold over the past five years, with increasingly warmer temperatures identified as a primary culprit. Count the destruction of England’s most valuable silk tapestries and woolen throw rugs as being yet another unlikely ill-effect of a gradually warming planet …
There's a hungry new moth in town
“Many people already know the exasperation of finding a much-loved jumper or coat destroyed by clothes moths. They can eat through centuries-old carpets, tapestries and clothes in a matter of months,” Amber Xavier-Rowe, English Heritage's head of Collections Conservation, tells the Telegraph. “The warmer weather has not helped and in the last five years the number of clothes moths we’ve captured on our traps has doubled.”
What’s more, a new species of clothes moth, the pale-backed clothes moth (Monopis crocicapitella), has been found at English Heritage properties for the very first time, prompting staffers to launch a new initiative aimed to measure — and ideally limit — the spread of this new species and previously identified ones across the country.
As part of the initiative, visitors to numerous English Heritage sites are encouraged to take home with them free moth traps in addition to run-of-the-mill souvenirs and commemorative keepsakes. Because really, how better to remember a lovely afternoon spent strolling the grounds of Brodsworth Hall, a fabled Victorian country house in South Yorkshire, than picking up a glue and cardboard insect trap that’s been “impregnated with the female sex pheromone of the clothes moth?”
Xavier-Rowe, who calls clothes moths a "conservator's worst nightmare," elaborates on the ultimate purpose of the moth trap giveaway scheme to the BBC:
“We want to know why numbers are rising so that we can continue to keep them under control. We need the public's help to get a better picture of the clothes moth threat. Come to our sites, pick up a free trap, take it home and leave it for a couple of months, and then share your findings with us on our website.”
Operation Clothes Moth
English Heritage hopes that by engaging the public and inviting site visitors to participate in Operation Clothes Moth, it will gain a better understanding of how and why clothes moths are spreading and where, in turn, to ramp up conservation efforts.
Not surprisingly, English Heritage employees a dedicated moth-busting team of conservation scientists who inspect for and eradicate the insects at 40 different historic properties with the formidable goal of protecting roughly a half-million artifacts. In fact, the charity has been keeping tabs on the spread of clothes since 1997 — long before crowdsourcing came into the picture. (The BBC notes that only a small handful of the 2,400 moth species found in the U.K. are noted fabric destroyers.)
And while English Heritage employs a variety of techniques to eradicate adult moths, their eggs and the ravenous larvae responsible for most of the damage, the charity recommends that the general public steer clear of mothballs and heavy-duty insecticides when treating infestations in their own homes and instead use strategically placed lavender satchels and other safe but effective nontoxic methods. As far as preventive measures go, relentless inspecting coupled with regular vacuuming, as tedious as it may be, is the way to go.