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Box Tree Moth - Real Threat to Chilterns Box Woodlands

Tuesday 16 July 2019

You may remember the Heritage Lottery Funded Box Woodland Project (2013 – 2015) led by Sarah Wright which introduced many of us to the rich cultural history of the Chilterns Box Woodland.  The largest native Box Woodland in the UK can be found near Great Kimble and remnants of other Box Woods, sometimes existing as an understorey to other woodlands, can be found scattered across the Chilterns.  The slow growing dense wood has been used for centuries for engraving, medieval woodwind musical instruments, early printing blocks and lace-makers bobbins, used locally to produce the famous Bucks Point Lace. Click here to learn more about Chilterns Box Woodlands.

Sadly today, there is a very real threat hanging over our native Box – the Box Moth. Introduced from China and South East Asia, often thought to be imported on ornamental Box plants bought for hedges and topiary, the Box Moth caterpillar has already caused devastation in London and the South East.  It has now been found on garden Box in Buckinghamshire and we are really concerned about what will happen if the moth gets established in our woodlands.  Using imported box plants at this time is, therefore, not recommended.


Box Moth


The European Boxwood and Topiary Society (EBTS), the RHS and the County Moth Recorders have collaborated and shared their data to write a paper documenting the spread and current status of the Box Tree Moth in the UK.  The paper was published in ‘The Entomologist’s Record’ on the 25th May and it is now available here: https://www.ebts.org/2019/05/paper-published-box-tree-moth-an-overview-of-its-spread/


box caterpillar


Control of the moth is still experimental in the UK. BT (extract from Bacillus thuringensis ssp. Kurstaki) spraying may be an option though this can only be done by qualified professionals.  Pesticides are not encouraged as they will also kill other moths, butterflies and other pollinating insects. In east Asia, biological control using nematodes has been used.  One woodland owner in Buckinghamshire is hoping to trial spraying an extract from excreted caterpillar frass on young plants as this has been shown to deter female moths from laying eggs.

So what can we do? At this stage, we are asking everyone to keep an eye out for signs of the caterpillar attacking Box in woodlands in the Chilterns.  If you own woodland where Box is present, you might consider getting hold of commercially available pheromone traps which attract and catch the adult moths. 

Please do let us know if you identify Box Moth adults or caterpillars within any Chilterns woodlands. You can use the Tree Alert web site for reporting Box Moths and Caterpillars: https://treealert.forestresearch.gov.uk or contact Neil Jackson: njackson@chilternsaonb.org.




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