Clothes moths are on the march and heading your way - let the battle begin!
- Members of the public are being invited to keep tabs on the nation's clothes moths, those unwanted interlopers in our wardrobes
Had English Heritage launched Operation Clothes Moth on April 1 rather than April 6, it might have invited suspicion.
Members of the public have been asked to do many things over the years, but inviting them to keep tabs on the nation's clothes moths, those unwanted interlopers in our wardrobes, is a first.
It is hard to imagine the French or Germans doing something so exquisitely eccentric.
Moth alert: Members of the public are being asked to keep tabs on the nation's clothes moths
But there is method in the madness. Clothes moths are on the march, like a rampant new political party, and their numbers have doubled in the past five years alone, according to English Heritage, whose expert conservators have seen at first hand the destructive impact of moths.
The English Heritage mothcounters, who have been keeping tabs on the little blighters since 1997, are particularly concerned by the monopis crocicapitella, or pale-backed clothes moth, a species not previously associated with shredding cashmere pullovers, but which now seems to be baring its teeth.
'For the past three years, we have been catching it on sticky monitoring traps impregnated with the female sex pheromone of the webbing clothes moth, or Tineola bisselliella,' explains Amber Xavier-Rowe, head of collections conservation at English Heritage.
Moths on the march: English Heritage Collections Conservator Caroline Rawson inspecting historic moth damage
Part of her job is to track down clothes moths with the same tenacity as Slipper of the Yard trying to catch the Great Train Robbers.
Exactly why there are more clothes moths around than there used to be is uncertain. Is this yet another by-product of global warming? Or is there some more complicated explanation? That is what Operation Clothes Moth is endeavouring to establish.
Members of the public are being invited to pick up a free clothes moth trap from English Heritage sites, place it in their own home and help gather the information that will map the spread of these pests across the country.
If they are picking on homeowners in Gloucestershire, but leaving the residents of Sunderland alone, we need to know. We can't have another postcode lottery on our hands.
'Many people know the exasperation of finding moth damage in a much-loved jumper or coat, so we want them to get involved and help us combat the rise of the clothes moth,' says Xavier-Rowe.
Watch out: Eltham Palace in London is one of the English Heritage sites at risk from clothes moths
'Don't forget that, as well as damaging clothes, the moths can attack woollen carpets or upholstery, resulting in holes or patches.' I will be curious to see what the study unearths in Oxford, where I live.
When I plunge into my wardrobe for something to wear, I find myself rejecting more clothes as motheaten than I did ten years ago. Sometimes it is a T-shirt, sometimes a pullover, on one occasion it was a pair of chinos.
I used to think the tell-tale holes were just nature's way of telling me that I had been clinging on to the clothes for too long, way past their use-by date. But perhaps, in the dead of night, darker forces are at work.
Whether or not home-owners are minded to be foot soldiers in Operation Clothes Moth, they should certainly take a few basic precautions if they are not to be greeted with unwelcome holes in favourite items of clothing.
There is a wealth of good tips on the English Heritage website (english-heritage.org.uk).
Some - such as keeping rarely used items of clothing in tightly sealed boxes or clothes bags - are just common sense. But others would not necessarily occur to home-owners.
It is important, for example, to clean the bottoms of wardrobes as well as the clothes hanging on the rails above. Insect pests thrive on dirt and debris wherever they find it.
The fightback: English Heritage are handing out clothes moth traps so that the public can keep an eye on the national moth situation
Open chimneys and unused flues are also a natural source of moth infestation, particularly if they go un-swept for years at a time. The more frequently you can disturb moths' natural habitats, the less likely they are to settle there.
And, if Operation Clothes Moth seems like a case of English dottiness, consider that the battle to contain moths can boast an impeccable historical pedigree.
No one took moth-busting more seriously than Queen Elizabeth I, who routed insect pests the way she saw off the Spanish Armada.
In 1590, it is recorded that eight men were employed for an entire day to beat the furs at Windsor Castle, while in 1598 it took six men four days to air the robes at the Tower of London.
Clothes moths may rank pretty low on the list of domestic nuisances, but if you are not careful, they can strike when you least expect it.
It really does not matter if that hole in your favourite pullover was gnawed by a webbing clothes moth or a white-shouldered house moth. You will still need to buy a new pullover.
So stiffen your sinews and join the people's war on moths.
English Heritage's Operation Clothes Moth (english-heritage.org.uk/ operationclothesmoth) launched yesterday.
HOW TO STOP THOSE PESKY PESTS
- Check for moths in the crevices, creases and folds of clothing as well as behind labels
- Make sure clothes are clean before storing them
- Keep items in vacuum bags or boxes with sealed tight lids
- Take out items hanging inside your wardrobe and shake them at least once a month - clothes moths hate being disturbed
- Regularly vacuum around the bottom of wardrobes and any shelves. Have open chimneys checked and cleaned once a year by a professional chimney sweep.
- Look underneath seats for signs of webbing or 'cases'. Look in lofts and attics for bird nests.
- Remove and destroy any nest material found.
- Once a month, move large items of furniture sitting on carpets and vacuum the areas underneath.
- After using your vacuum cleaner, empty the contents into a black plastic bag. Seal it up and dispose of it in an outside bin
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