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Rare or threatened species present
Red Data Book category 2 species:
Willow Ermine moth (Yponomeuta rorella). So called because of its beautiful greyish-silvery wings with black spots, this small moth was found at Marshalls Heath on 1st August 1995. It is the rarest species on the reserve, declining nationally and liable to be in danger of extinction in Britain if the causes of its decline continue to operate. The larva feeds on White Willow, or occasionally Grey Willow.
Na (Nationally notable species, category A):
Balsam Carpet moth (XanthorhoŽ biriviata). This and the following species are only known from less than 30 decads (10km squares) in the United Kingdom. It is a very local moth, being confined mainly to water meadows bordering waterways around London, and was recorded at Marshalls Heath on 19th July 1995. The larva feeds on Orange Balsam or Small Balsam.
Great Brocade moth (Eurois occulta). A fairly large, fat-bodied noctuid moth that is resident in Scotland and is an occasional migrant elsewhere. It was attracted to light on 7th August 1995, at a time when several unusual insects from continental Europe turned up in southeast England.
Nb (Nationally notable species, category B):
White-letter Hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium w-album). Thirty specimens have been seen in ten different years, most recently in July 2001, suggesting that there is a small but persistent breeding colony here. The caterpillar feeds on elm, and the species was drastically reduced following the attack of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and early 1980s, and is presently continuing to decline, causing concern nationally.
Barred White moth (Nemapogon clematella). This tiny species breeds at Marshalls Heath, where it was identified in May 1997 by Mark Sterling from the characteristic mine that its caterpillar makes in the fungus Diatrype disciformis, found growing on a dead Hazel branch. This demonstrates the importance of leaving a good supply of dead and rotting wood on the ground as part of good woodland management.
Small Clover Case-bearer moth (Coleophora frischella). One of the large family of moths whose larvae make characteristic tubes or cases to pass the winter in, this tiny moth is beautifully coloured, with bronzy green wings reflecting flashes of shimmering purple in places. It probably breeds on the Heath, where its numbers have been increasing in recent years, 59 being seen in 2002. Its larvae feed on White Clover, and possibly Thistles and Knapweed too.
Black Stigma Case-bearer moth (Coleophora hemerobiella). Feeding on Hawthorn, Apple or Wild Cherry, this species may also be breeding on the reserve, having been seen in three separate years, most recently in August 2002 when three were found.
Pale Lettuce Bell moth (Eucosma conterminana). A small, well-camouflaged moth that has repeatedly turned up at Marshalls Heath over the years, the last in August 2000. It feeds on Great Lettuce or Prickly Lettuce, but is a scarce, local moth, restricted to southeast England.
Grass-veneer moth (Pediasia contaminella). Feeding on Sheep's Fescue, a grass that flourishes on the anthills, it is possible that this species breeds here in small numbers. Three have been seen in three different years, most recently on 8th August 2002.
Sulphur Pearl moth (Sitochroa palealis). This elegant, sulphur-yellow moth was discovered here on 10th August 1997. Its foodplant, Wild Carrot, is widespread on the anthills and acid grassland, so the hopes are that it breeds here.
Long-legged Tabby moth (Synaphe punctalis). Recorded only once, on 8th August 1997, this scarce moth is normally found in coastal areas. It may possibly breed here, as it feeds on damp mosses.
False Cacao moth (Ephestia parasitella). Recorded twice, in 1998 and 2002 July 17th, the life history of this scarce moth is poorly known. It probably feeds on dried plant material, dead berries and dried stems of ivy, so may be breeding on the reserve.
Yarrow Pug moth (Eupithecia Millefoliata). Discovered on 22nd August 2000, the abundance of its foodplant, yarrow, may mean that it is breeding here, though elsewhere it has mainly been found on the coast or around the Thames estuary.
Pale Shining Brown moth (Polia bombycina). Formerly well-represented in the south of England, there have been very few records of this moth since 1980. It is normally found in areas of chalky soil, but its foodplant and life-history are unknown, though it will accept dandelion, knotgrass, dock and sow-thistle in captivity, all of which are found here. It was seen at Marshalls Heath on 28th June 1996, the only recent Hertfordshire record.
Angle-striped Sallow Moth (Enargia paleacea). Extremely rare, this beautiful orange-yellow moth feeds on silver birch, so might possibly be breeding here, though the specimen seen on 31st July 1995 could have been an immigrant. There are very few Hertfordshire records for this moth.
Waved Black Moth (Parascotia fuliginaria). The caterpillar of this scarce moth feeds on fungi growing on tree stumps or fallen or felled tree-trunks, and is yet another illustration of the importance of rotting wood to many forms of wildlife. It has been seen twice, on 24th July 1995 and 21st July 1997, and hopefully survives in small numbers.
Leaf beetle (Chrysolina oricalcia). This smallish shiny beetle has been found twice, on 19th April and 18th September 1993. It has no specific English name, but is one of the leaf beetles noted for their shiny, sometimes metallic bright colouring.
Monks Wood Beetle (Hallomenus binotatus). Occuring in the fungi on old trees, this rare reddish-yellow beetle was recorded on 26th May 1995, the first and only time it has been recorded in Hertfordshire.
Net-winged beetle (Platycis minuta). This scarce species also occurs in old wood, emphasising how important it is to leave fallen trees as part of good woodland management. It is usually encountered in ancient woodland, and may have survived here in hedgerows where it was recently discovered on 23rd August 2002.
False darking beetle (Prionychus ater). Yet another species of old timber, this is a nocturnal beetle found under the bark of deciduous trees. It was recorded here on 13th July 1999.
Spider beetle (Ptinus sexpunctatus). One of the spider beetles, so-called because of their long legs and roundish bodies, this tiny beetle has the distinction of having been discovered in the nests of bees. It feeds on decaying insects, one of the thousands of useful "tidying up" creatures without which our world would be overrun with refuse. It was seen on the Heath on 10th May 1993, 10th April 1999 and 6th May 2000.
Hoverfly (Volucella inanis). One of 276 species of British hoverfly, this species has a bright yellow body with thin black bands. It has no English name. The resemblance to a wasp is purely superficial - it is not related to wasps and has no sting. The similarity is a useful defence from birds and anything else that might attack it, but as far as man is concerned, thousands of these innocent creatures are mistaken for wasps or hornets and killed. It was recorded on the Heath by Mark Sterling on 20th August 1995.
Nationally Local species
Least Carpet moth (Idaea vulpinaria). This species is seen here in most years, 15 times altogether and most recently on 11th August 2002. Its foodplant is ivy and there is probably a breeding colony on the Heath.
Scarce Tissue moth (Rheumaptera cervinalis). The scarcity of this moth is perhaps mainly due to the fact that its caterpillar feeds only on Barberry and other Berberis species, plants that used to be ruthlessly exterminated by farmers, as they harbour wheat rust. The presence of the plant round the edges of the Heath, and the development of resistant strains of wheat, may help its survival here. It has been recorded five times, most recently on 13th May 1997.
Brown Scallop moth (Philereme vetulata). This very local moth was found here on 4th July 1995. Its caterpillars feed exclusively on Buckthorn.
Maple Pug moth (Eupithecia inturbata). A small but persistent colony of this moth seems to be present on the Heath, where its food, the flower of the Field Maple, is relatively common. It has been seen in 8 out of the last 10 years, most recently on 7th August 2002.
Netted Pug moth (Eupithecia venosata). Normally a species of chalk or limestone districts, the Netted Pug is becoming much scarcer and is now a cause for concern, and there are very few recent Hertfordshire records. It breeds on Bladder Campion, which is found in small numbers on the road verges of the Heath, and along some of the field edges. It was discovered here on 24th May 1999.
Lead-coloured Drab moth (Orthosia populeti). With such an unflattering English name, this species hasn't much going for it. It flies early in the year, March and April, and visits Sallow blossom. The caterpillar breeds on Aspen. It has been recorded only once, on 17th March 2000.
Lesser-Spotted Pinion moth (Cosmia affinis). Once reasonably common, this distinguished-looking moth declined dramatically following the outbreak of Dutch elm disease. Its caterpillar feeds on English elm, but seems to have survived by using Wych elm as well. Perhaps, like the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, it is making use of the elm suckers and shrubs that continue to persist in large numbers at Marshalls Heath. It has been seen every year except 2002, 54 times in all, and most recently on 12th August 2001.
Birds on the RSPB Red List
Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix). A nesting grey partridge was a local attraction on the Heath in 1979, but this species has since suffered a worrying decline. Ground nesting birds are particularly vulnerable here as the Heath is common land and a favourite place for dog walkers.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus minor). This delightfully attractive little bird has been regularly nesting on the Heath and in adjacent gardens, but the loss of our resident bird enthusiast has meant that its present status is unclear. It was last recorded on 19th December 1998.
Skylark (Alauda arvensis). Universally loved as one of the signs of spring, the lark ascending to sing its exuberant chattering notes high above fields and meadows is giving way to silence as this bird disappears from more and more districts. It is still a regular sight at Marshalls Heath however, and was most recently noted on 17th April 2001.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos). The confident, melodious and beautifully inventive musical call of the Song Thrush is still heard on the reserve from the tops of tall trees on calm, warm evenings at twilight in summer, most recently on 9th June 1999, but numbers of this popular bird are declining to a worrying extent.
Willow Tit (Parus montanus). This woodland bird is in serious trouble, perhaps partly because of its need to excavate a nest hole in a rotten tree or stump, yet another reason for leaving dead timber where it is. Last seen here on 12th May 1995, the national decline of this bird has been greater than for any other in Britain, 54% since 1994. The decline in Hertfordshire has been far more serious, from being present in about half the tetrads recorded in 1986 down to only four birds seen in 2000 in the entire county.
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). There was widespread disbelief and amazement when this once universally familiar bird was added to the RSPB Red List, but having halved its numbers in recent years it has disappeared from many sites. There is little information on its present status at Marshalls Heath, the most recent record being 1996 April 14th.
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). The catastrophic decline of this species in the 1990s is difficult to explain, and it has not been definitely recorded at Marshalls Heath since 1989.
Linnet (Carduelis cannabina). There is a single record of this declining species on 20th August 1988.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). A solitary woodland bird, most recently seen here by Trevor Chapman on 5th August 2001. It feeds particularly on ash seeds, and in the winter has been known to feed on fruit buds, which has made it unpopular with fruit farmers, who may have assisted its decline. It is hopefully still breeding here, but the most recent nest reported was by Mark Kingett in 1995.
Birds on the RSPB Amber List
Curlew (Numenius arquata). This attractive passage migrant put in an appearance on 24th December 2000, when its distinctive call could be heard as it flew over the north end of the Heath.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Again little to do with the Heath, this uncommon visitor was seen high above on two occasions: Georgina Beedell saw one on 14th March 1991 and Mike Russell on 1st May 2000.
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). Often seen here, though not always noted, the most recent record being on 18th November 1995. A nest in 1989 was abandoned before young were hatched. Like all ground nesting birds, it is extremely vulnerable to dogs walked regularly on the Heath.
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridus). There is a thriving population of this exotic-looking bird, which is frequently seen feeding on the anthills where the yellow ants and their larvae constitute one of its favourite foods. Its loud yaffling laugh can often be heard, most recently reported on 2nd November 2002.
Dunnock (Prunella modularis). There is little recent information on this small, ground-dwelling bird that can be seen shuffling around hedgerows. The most recent record is from 2nd July 1995.
Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). Reported as singing on the Heath in 1970, there have been no recent records of this supremely inventive musical genius among birds. In 1970 the present woodland consisted of much smaller scrub and bushes that would have favoured this popular migrant. Restoration of a healthy scrub habitat could well attract it back again.
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). There have been no records of this species since Michael Beedell reported it in 1994. It frequents woodland clearings, but is normally seen in the county as a passage migrant only.
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus). The Mistle Thrush is occasionally seen, most recently noted on 11th May 1996.
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus). This still-common summer visitor has declined significantly over the last 15 years, but its song is still a feature of the dawn chorus here, most recently reported by Peter Wilkinson on 2nd July 1995.
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). This pretty, tiny bird is the smallest in Europe, a mere three and a half inches (9 centimetres) long, and can be seen flitting rapidly amongst the heathland vegetation in search of insects and spiders. A bird heard singing on 1st July 1995 is the most recent record, but like many other bird species, there is little information on its present status here. All sightings welcome: contact John Murray on email@example.com.
Species extremely rare or not found elsewhere in Hertfordshire
As well as the national rarities noted above, some of the species seen at Marshalls Heath are not found elsewhere in the county, or have been reported here as the first county record, or the first for many years. Among those in this category are the following:
Saltmarsh Plume moth (Agdistis benetii). The extraordinary find of this moth on the night of 10-11th August 1994 was the first and only record for Hertfordshire. Normally a coastal species, the caterpillar feeds on common sea-lavender.
Clover Slender moth (Parectopa ononidis). This tiny moth has beautiful deep brown wings with silver spots, and its caterpillar feeds on clover so it hopefully breeds at Marshalls Heath. Two specimens were recorded on 29th July 2002, and a third on 13th August. It has never been found elsewhere in Hertfordshire.
Pearled Dwarf moth (Elachista apicipunctella). Another tiny moth, this species has blackish-brown wings with shining white markings. It breeds on grasses, especially Cocksfoot which abounds on the Heath. The three specimens noted on 21st April 2002 are the only ones ever seen in Hertfordshire.
Kentish Cosmet moth (Mompha sturnipennella). The larva of this tiny moth feeds in the stem of Rosebay Willowherb, very common on the Heath, causing a gall or swelling. Two moths were found on 5th June and 19th July 1999, and these remain the only records for Hertfordshire.
Wormwood Knot-horn moth (Euzophera cinerosella). A pyralid moth that feeds on Wormwood, this species turned up twice in 2002: on June 16th and July 7th. There are no other instances of it being found in Hertfordshire.
Homeless bee (Nomada panzeri). This tiny wasp-like bee has a hair-like sting that has little, if any, effect on a human. It has no English name, but is one of the family of so-called Homeless bees, who are the cuckoos of the bee world, laying their eggs in the nesting burrows of other bees and letting other species feed them. The first Hertfordshire sighting of this bee was by Raymond Uffen on 22nd May 1995. It has since been found at the Weston Hills in May 2000.
Spindle smudge moth (Ypsolopha mucronella). When found on the Heath on 31st March 1993, it was the first Hertfordshire record since A.F.Griffith reported it from Sandridge in 1890. Since then, the moth has appeared here 3 more times, most recently on 16th April 2001, but has not been seen elsewhere in the county.
Yellow-headed Tubic moth (Pseudatemelia flavifrontella). The early stages of this scarce moth are unknown to science, as are its foodplant. Found here on 1st June 2002, this is the first Hertfordshire record since 1968.
Streaked Flat-body moth (Depressaria chaerophylli). The moth that turned up on 25th April 1997 was the first to be recorded in Hertfordshire since W.C.Boyd recorded it in Cheshunt in 1901. It has since appeared here on 14th April 2002. The caterpillar feeds on rough chervil.
Brown Rowan Argent moth (Argyresthia semifusca). A tiny, attractive moth with striking purplish brown and white forewings, its caterpillar feeds on hawthorn shoots. Recorded twice, in 1995 and on 8th August 2002, these are the only Hertfordshire records since Arthur H. Foster found it at Hitchin in 1925.
Thicket Groundling moth (Gelechia scotinella). A very local and rare moth, the caterpillar feeds on Juniper, which is found in the central part of Marshalls Heath. The moth found on 20th July 2000 was the first to be seen in Hertfordshire since 1971.
Three-colour Groundling moth (Caryocolum tricolorella). A small but attractive moth, with orange, brown and ochreous wings that give the moth its name. The larva feeds on Greater Stitchwort, which is very common on the Heath. The moth was presumed extinct in the county until discovered here on 31st July 2001, the first in Hertfordshire since Boyd reported it from Cheshunt in 1901.
Goosefoot Groundling moth (Scrobipalpa atriplicella). This small moth feeds on several foodplants including fat-hen. The one recorded on 16th July 1999 was the first in Hertfordshire since 1970.
Soldier beetle (Cantharis figurata). Found at Marshalls Heath on 16th May 1994, this is the first Hertfordshire record since 1954, and only the 4th ever in the county. It preys on other insects.
Carrion beetle (Necrodes littoralis). This large black beetle, which has no English name, feeds on dead animals, providing a useful task in helping to remove their remains. It also feeds on maggots. The specimen found on 13th May 2001 was only the 6th Hertfordshire record of this local and mainly coastal species.
Click beetle (Stenagostus rhombeus). This uncommon species was found on 20th July, and on the 9th & 15th August 1994. These are the only records for west Hertfordshire.
Updated 22 Feb 2003