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They’re small, brown and hungry - and they’re gobbling our heritage away

PUBLISHED: 10:05 06 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:43 06 April 2017

English Heritage collections conservator Caroline Rawson investigates historic clothes moth damage to an artefect at Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS

English Heritage collections conservator Caroline Rawson investigates historic clothes moth damage to an artefect at Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS

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They have stood the test of time and rank among our region’s greatest treasures.

The common, or webbing, clothes moth, can cause damage to historic collections, fabric and furnishings. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS The common, or webbing, clothes moth, can cause damage to historic collections, fabric and furnishings. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS

But now, East Anglia’s historic houses and other hallowed sites are at risk from damage caused by an increase in clothes moths and household pests.

English Heritage is today launching a campaign to clamp down on the pest called Operation Clothes Moth, which it says have doubled in number over the past five years, partly due to climate change.

And the charity wants the public to get involved by collecting free ‘clothes moth traps’ to set up in their homes to help map the spread of insect pests across the country.

Amber Xavier-Rowe, head of collections conservation for English Heritage, said: “At English Heritage we regularly monitor insect pest activity to ensure our collections get the best possible care, but any sudden change in species behaviour or increase in numbers is a concern.

English Heritage collections conservator Caroline Rawson examines clothes moths found in historic sites. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS English Heritage collections conservator Caroline Rawson examines clothes moths found in historic sites. Picture: ANTHONY CHAPPEL-ROSS

“Many people around the country will no doubt know the exasperation of finding clothes moth damage in a much-loved jumper or coat, so we want people to come to our sites, collect a free clothes moth trap, and get involved. While we suspect factors including warmer weather and the increased use of heating inside homes is partly to blame, we hope this campaign helps us to better learn how to combat the rise of the clothes moth.”

In 2016, English Heritage conservators counted 2,469 of the common webbing clothes moth, Tineola bissellella, at its sites across the country compared to 1,138 in 2015 and just 800 in 2014.

The moths live indoors and their larvae feed on woollen carpets, clothing, upholstery, fur and even taxidermy, resulting in the appearance of holes or patches.

The charity has been monitoring the spread of clothes moths since 1995, and now monitors at more than 40 sites across the country, with the aim of preventing damage to the more than 500,000 historic artefacts in their care across England.

Castle Acre Priory. Picture: Patricia Payne/English Heritage Castle Acre Priory. Picture: Patricia Payne/English Heritage

Monitoring has recently begun to discover another species of moth, Monopis sp., which has previously not been found in historic houses. The traps, which are impregnated with the female sex pheromone of the clothes moth, are available from today.

For more, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/operationclothesmoth

Historic sites where you can pick up your free clothes moth trap include:

Grime's Graves. Picture: English Heritage Grime's Graves. Picture: English Heritage

-Castle Acre Priory at Castle Acre, near Swaffham. One of England’s largest and best preserved monastic sites, the priory was the home of the country’s first Cluniac order of monks.

-Grime’s Graves, Thetford Forest Park. The country’s only Neolithic flint mine open to visitors, the site dates back more than 5,000 years.

-Great Yarmouth Row Houses. The houses at Row 111 and the Old Merchant’s House are rare remnants of Great Yarmouth’s original distinctive ‘Rows’ which were a network of narrow alleyways linking Yarmouth’s three main thoroughfares.

-Framlingham Castle. A 12th century fortress with a long and colourful past.

-Saxtead Green Post Mill, near Framlingham, Suffolk. This a corn mill, whose whole body revolves on its base and was one of many built in Suffolk from the late 13th century.

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