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Our essential work at Golden Cap

Volunteers digging at Golden Cap in Devon
National Trust volunteers work hard to maintain this special place | © National Trust Images/Clive Whitbourn

The team at Golden Cap work hard throughout the year to maintain this special site, both for the enjoyment of visitors and to protect the myriad wildlife species that reside here. Recent projects include everything from surveying moth populations to managing rare orchids.

Surveying moths at Golden Cap

Since 2015, our specialist volunteer John Newbould has – with the help of other local lepidopterists – been regularly surveying the moth populations on the Golden Cap estate. These records contribute to the National Moth Recording Scheme, which gathers UK-wide data on the distribution of larger moth species (macro-moths).

Why do we survey moths?

Moths, like other insects, play an integral role in our ecosystems, as herbivores, prey and pollinators. Keeping track of their distribution is an essential part of their conservation, and also provides wider information on the health of our ecosystems.

Analysis of moth records from across the UK has shown that the number of macro-moths on these shores has declined significantly in the past 40 years, particularly in the south. This is due to a range of factors, from habitat loss to climate change.

Understanding and monitoring future changes in the moth community will help us to better plan our habitat management for moths and other wildlife.

Recent findings

In 2021, more than 200 species were recorded across the Golden Cap estate. Many of these, including the brindled beauty, the lackey, the latticed heath and the buff ermine, have seen a huge drop in numbers over the past four decades, and are therefore priority species for research.

However, some of the species found at Golden Cap are more abundant than ever. One example is the vestal moth. A migrant species that overwinters in north Africa and southern Europe, it’s a regular visitor to the UK in the summer, and has increased in abundance by more than 900 per cent since the 1960s.

Rare species

During the moth-trapping sessions, we also keep an eye out for some of the rarer species. One example is the Morris’s wainscot, an extremely localised species that’s found only on undercliff along the south coast of Dorset. Regular surveys in these areas will help to establish how it’s faring.

See for yourself

As part of a series of Wildlife Wednesday events at Golden Cap in summer 2021, we introduced people to moth trapping, providing the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the fantastic and diverse species found. We hope to offer more of these popular events in the near future.

Find out more about the National Moth Recording Scheme

Grey and red burnet moth at Castone and Cherhill
Many species of moth have been sighted at Golden Cap | © National Trust Images/Emma Weston

Monitoring waxcaps

A riot of colour is brightening up the grasslands on the Golden Cap estate. It’s a family of fungi known as waxcaps.

Waxcaps come in a glorious range of colours, including orange, red, yellow, pink and even green. They have equally colourful names, such as the splendid waxcap, the glutinous waxcap and the scarlet waxcap.

Their distinctive and visible components make them one of the easier grassland fungi to identify. As well as being brightly coloured, their textures are interesting – fibrous, waxy, felt-like, buttery, sticky or even slippery.

Fungi surveys

In November 2016, the Golden Cap ecology team carried out fungi surveys and were delighted to find 21 species of waxcap across the estate, along with 11 other species of grassland fungi. These make Golden Cap a site of national importance for grassland fungi.

The most commonly found species were the golden, the parrot and the meadow waxcap. Interestingly, several species that are characteristic of ancient, semi-natural grasslands were also found, such as the pink, the glutinous, the crimson and the earthy waxcap.

Protecting wildlife

These surveys are important as they tell us about the condition of the grasslands here and, along with data from plant and animal surveys (mostly undertaken by our dedicated volunteers), will drive the way we manage the land at Golden Cap. This will help to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the amazing wildlife on the estate.

We’ll be doing more surveys this year, so if you’re interested in volunteering with our ecology team, please email

Toadstool at Golden Cap, Devon
What flora and fungi will you spot during your visit to Golden Cap? | © National Trust Images/Stephen Morley

Managing rare orchids

Volunteer ecologists based at the Golden Cap estate have been busy surveying for autumn lady’s tresses (Spiranthes spiralis). This orchid species declined considerably after the 1930s, when grassland was converted to arable land and managed with fertilisers to improve productivity.

Found mainly in southern England, Yorkshire, Cumbria and the Welsh coast, the species prefers chalk or limestone grassland but is also found on lawns, cliff tops and sand dunes. It’s rarely found on more acidic soils.

Growing in number

On the Golden Cap estate, the species has been seen in around 30 of the 170 fields, mainly adjacent to the coastal path. Numbers vary each year, depending on the amount of sunshine and rain prior to the flowering season. In one field in 2020, we counted over 1,400 spikes. In 2021, we had six fields with over 1,000 flowering spikes, and a further nine with numbers between 100 and 999. We also added three new fields.

Originating from seed, the plant takes up to six years to flower from a rosette. After flowering, the rosette dies back and a new one forms for the following year, which may result in multi-stemmed plants.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

A view of the coastline from the summit of Golden Cap, Dorset, at Dawn

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