Article from Cheshire and Wirral Argus, the newsletter of the Cheshire and Wirral Branch of Butterfly Conservation
Spring 2023, issue 108
by Diana Moss and Tim Ward
There we were, deep in the western end of the Danes Moss site, staggering along overgrown paths and negotiating steep banks in the dark, carrying heavy generators and moth traps. Spending much of the night on our knees in a blizzard of moths around the central lamp, recording what we saw. Inspecting the subsidiary traps and identifying the contents (one portable trap was taken home for examination the following morning but moths escaped into the car while being driven home, making driving a little difficult, so that experiment wasn’t repeated!).
Most members will be aware of the proposed major development at Danes Moss where there is outline planning permission for a link road, 950 houses, a school and retail the southern edge of Macclesfield.
In December 2021 Cheshire East Council, in partnership with private developers, submitted reserved matters applications for the 55 Ha site. The proposed development site is deep peat and forms the northern half of a lowland raised bog complex; Danes Moss Nature reserve and SSSI form the southern part of this complex with the former landfill site in between. The site is a natural carbon store, a rich and varied wildlife habitat and a much-valued green space where the people of south Macclesfield have walked for decades. Cheshire Wildlife Trust were among many objectors pointing out that ‘the likely destruction of natural capital (biodiversity and stored carbon) at this scale is unprecedented in recent decades within the Cheshire region’. The considerable local concern about the proposal led to the establishment of a campaign to Save Danes Moss.
On looking through the planning documents, including reports by the ecological consultants, it became clear that actually very little was known about the biodiversity of the site; entomological records in particular were virtually non-existent. The ecology report mentioned two insects as being recorded on site; Small heath and Cinnabar moth. An invertebrate scoping survey undertaken on a damp November day identified the potential for the site to support not only rare species, but also an abundance of more widespread species, and recommended that a full invertebrate survey was carried out. This was never commissioned.
It was obvious, however, just from walking through the site that the composition and structure of the vegetation was likely to support a rich and varied invertebrate population. Sallow grows across the site and forms a dense stand of wet woodland along the southern boundary. Tall remnant hedges separating the moss rooms along with developing willow scrub provide an extraordinary abundance of edge habitats for insects and foraging birds. There are thickets of brambles, and stands of tall forbs including Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Common Valerian (Valeriana officonalis), Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre), Willowherb (Chamaenerion spp.), Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and Caucasian Comfrey (Sympytum caucasicum) along with extensive areas of rough grassland.
Throughout 2022 the Save Danes Moss campaign have been working to record the biodiversity of the site and recording moths as important indicators of biodiversity was a high priority.
Four overnight trapping sessions, led by Steve Hind, were held in June, July, August and September and, coupled with some daytime visits looking for day-flyers and larvae/leaf-mines, recorded some 314 moth species of which 40 are designated “Local” (meaning that they have been recorded in only 101-300 10km squares in Britain since 1 January 1960). A further 4 species are designated “Nationally Scarce B” (meaning that they have been recorded in only 31-100 10km squares in Britain over the same period), including the Devon Carpet (Lampropterix otregiata), the Marsh Oblique-barred (Hypenodes humidalis), the micro case-bearer Coleophora orbitella and the micro-moth Caryocolum viscariella.
Our moth records are only one part of the evidence being assembled by the Save Danes Moss Community Group to demonstrate the importance of the site for wildlife. Recording of other groups has been carried out by keen amateur naturalists with Andrew Emmerson, from the Save Danes Moss group, taking the lead. The findings, from just one summer of recording, are stark evidence of just how valuable and biodiverse the site is and what would be lost if the development went ahead. An important part of the recording has been identifying which species have some form of protection under law, and ensuring that all the records for these species are uploaded to the planning portal. This ensures that they can be taken into account at any future planning appeal or legal hearing.
24 of the 27 species of butterfly known to breed in Cheshire have been recorded over the whole of Danes Moss with 21 recorded on the development area. These include the only known colony of the rapidly declining Dingy Skipper in Cheshire East and good numbers of Small heath. Dark Green Fritillary a rarity in the east of the county was also recorded. Other notable invertebrate sightings include the Broad-banded Hopper Wasp (Gorytes laticinctus), a UK Redlist rare species with only 2 Cheshire records, and the Banded General Soldier Fly (Stratiomys potamida) which has been recorded only a handful of times in Cheshire in the last 50 years. Such findings hint at the possibility that there are likely to be other scarce species yet to be recorded, and confirm that this is indeed one of the most biodiverse sites in Cheshire East.
The site has recently been designated as a Local Wildlife Site and the records collected over the summer were an important part of the evidence submitted to the Council. Although this does not guarantee the protection of the site it does have to be taken into account in the consideration of any planning application. The moth records were a crucial part of the evidence and have also proved invaluable in the campaign. The numbers of both widespread and rarer moth species recorded over just four sessions, has shown unequivocally the value of the site for biodiversity in a way that is easily communicable to both the general public and professionals.
The trapping sessions were run by moth experts; members of the Save Danes Moss group also came along and for those with no previous experience of moth trapping those summer nights around the light were a wonderful and unforgettable insight into the beauty and diversity of these often unnoticed creatures.