Four-spotted Moth Survey- Herts & Middx Butterfly Conservation

The Four-spotted moth Tyta luctuosa

Moth pages linked to this page . . .
© Liz Goodyear

The Four-spotted is a scarce moth, with a Priority BAP Status, Nationally Rare GB Status and Near Threatened Red List Status. © Herts & Middlesex Moth Group

One of the national strongholds is in the east of England, in a small area where Cambridgeshire, Essex and the Hertfordshire boundaries meet and survey work in Cambridgeshire and Essex had been going on for a number of years.

For some years the only recent Hertfordshire record was at Arbury Banks near Ashwell where one was recorded in 2005, but then in 2017 Four-spotted was found very close to the Hertfordshire border. Targeted survey work in 2018 lead by Sharon Hearle came very close to putting the Four-spotted back on the Hertfordshire map with a sighting on private farmland just yards from the Hertfordshire border! In 2020, a Four-spotted was recorded on a public footpath just in to Hertfordshire but close to the 2018 sighting! However, it was only after the Covid19 Lockdown periods had ended that targetted surveying could resume on the private farmland. With the farmer's permission survey visits were conducted in June 2021, 2022 and 2023. The findings indicated that the moth is present in low numbers in three distinct areas varying in distance from the Hertfordshire border. In addition the farmer had also planted several margins and plots with a wild flower mix which included Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) and it was confirmed in 2021 that some of these margins were also being colonised by the Small Blue (Cupido minimus) butterfly!

The Four-spotted is a day flying moth (the moth will occasionally visit moth traps) that can be found on arable field margins and south-facing banks with thin calcareous soils. Most records are recorded from late May until mid June and then a second generation towards the middle of July - this can vary from year to year. The caterpillar feeds on Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) which is often abundant at good sites and the adults will nectar at a range of flowers including Ox-eye Daisy and Red Clover.

Ox-eye Daisy
Four-spotted on field bindweed
Ox-eye Daisy
Four-spotted on Field Bindweed
Field Bindweed on a field margin
Typical habitat
Bare soil and Field Bindweed
A typical farmland margin with longer grass and scrub

It is clear that regular ground disturbance is important for this species, and explains why the moth persists along railway corridors, cultivated field margins and steep road banks. The moth has been quick to colonise development sites such as new road schemes, cuttings and reservoir banks as well as ditches dug beside roads to prevent hare coursing particularly in Cambridgeshire and Essex. In Hertfordshire we are working with the local farmers and landowners but regionally it is hoped to additionally work with developers to influence new developments such as Solar Farms or road schemes to include banks and features that will benefit the Four-spotted.

Roadside ditch
Roadside ditch
Roadside ditch ideal habitat for Four-spotted
Roadside ditch ideal habitat for Four-spotted

North Hertfordshire is still relatively under-recorded and sightings of all butterfly and moth species will be very welcome. Small Heath and Common Blue in addition to Small Blue are often found at good Four-spotted sites. A brief study of the soil type map has indicated that the moth is associated with certain soil types in Cambridgeshire and Essex and we would suggest these areas with the same soil type in Hertfordshire should be visited.

Survey plans

No specific surveys are currently planned but we would like to encourage more volunteers to look for the moth. A sunny day is essential and walking through vegetation or with a dog has been shown to be helpful in disturbing the moth. It is normally seen singly, often after an hour spent looking for it, but Colin Plant recorded 100 on a single day in Essex in 2005 so anything is possible.

The main areas to look are:

  1.  Area north of Baldock and east of Royston: Caldecote, Newnham, Bygrave and Ashwell
  2.  Area south of Royston: Reed, Barkway, Nuthampstead and Anstey

Additional information from Butterfly Conservation
Four-spotted Information Fact Sheet

If you would like more information please contact Sharon Hearle our Regional Officer, so you can be provided with target survey maps and kept up-to-date with sightings as the season progresses. Sharon's contact details are:

Mobile: 07920 131526

The original article which this page is based on was reproduced with kind permission of Sharon Hearle, of Butterfly Conservation - appeared as an article in issue 76 of the Herts & Middx branch newsletter pp 18-19