Gypsy moth makes its home at Heathrow

02 / 08 / 2017

Heathrow’s biodiversity engineers – (yes, there is such a profession, and yes, the UK’s busiest airport has some on its staff) say they have discovered the 3,000th species known to be living in the 170 hectares of land it manages.

Why and how Cydalima Perspectalis, more commonly known as the Box Tree Moth, came to reside at the airport is still to be discovered.

According to an airport press release, “there is some speculation [by who?] that the collection of fine silks and cashmere in offer at the terminals may have attracted the white winged friend.”

Leaving aside the shameless plug for the Heathrow ‘retail experience’, it then comes up with the more plausible explanation that the highly adaptable creature, first recorded in Britain only in 2007, is simply following its food source. As their name suggests, the moth’s caterpillars feed on Box bushes and it is likely that the moth will occur anywhere near to where these are grown.

The Box Tree Moth is one of 540 moth species discovered at Heathrow. So far this year 210 new species have been found, 146 of which have been mostly various types of moths, flies, bugs and higher plants.

As Heathrow director of sustainability, Matt Gorman, says: “We have a huge interest in looking after smaller winged friends. This discovery marks a major milestone for Heathrow’s biodiversity team who manage a species count more than treble of that of the London Zoo’s. Identifying, protecting and fostering our native species is an important part of our plan to enhance the area around the airport for the benefit of everyone who lives there.” 

Heathrow supports the Colne Valley Park Community Interest Company, providing habitats for protected wildlife as well as community facilities. The airport’s approach to biodiversity has earned Heathrow the Wildlife Trusts’ Biodiversity Benchmark Award, the only UK national award recognising responsible land management, for nine years in a row.

Let’s hope that all this biodiversity doesn’t get out of hand though. Recently there were reports of Easyjet passengers being stranded for two days on the Greek island of Zante after a flight was cancelled to protect a turtle population. Zante imposes a night curfew to avoid disturbing the mating of loggerhead turtles.

Let’s hope that the Box Tree Moth doesn’t prove to be a similarly sensitive soul.