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Don't Leave Home Without Science.

Latest Science News

Conker Trees Infographic

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Conker Tree Science results from 2010

The two Conker Tree Science missions were launched in 2010, with the bird attacks mission introduced in 2012. We’ve switched to showing the latest results live for each mission (click the buttons at the top to discover more), but here you can find out what we discovered in our first year.

We received over 4000 records, and we thank everyone who took part. Each record is a valuable part of our dataset allowing us to understand more about the horse-chestnut leaf-mining moth and its natural pest controllers.

The records from ‘Mission: alien moth survey’ were spread throughout most of England. The leaf-mining moth is spreading into Britain from London, where it was first recorded in 2002. It has only recently been recorded in Wales and the north of England and has not yet been confirmed in Scotland, which is why we did not receive many reports from these areas. We have sent to Forest Research the records that have been confirmed in new areas. We look forward to confirming many of these records in 2011, but need more participants to check these areas!

Follow the links to take part in mission: alien moth survey and mission: pest controllers, or register your interest in our missions.

Mission: alien moth survey

In ‘Mission: alien moth survey,’ we expected the amount of damage done to horse-chestnut trees by the leaf-mining moth to be high in sites close to London because the moth arrived in London in 2002 and had spread throughout the country since then.

We worked out the maximum damage score recorded in each 20km square on the map for early summer (mid-June to mid-July) and late summer (mid-July to mid-September). In early summer, the damage varied a lot. By late summer, damage to trees south and east of Birmingham was almost always moderate to heavy, but the damage was lighter at the western and northern edges of the moth’s distribution, where it has only recently arrived.

Mission: pest controllers

Over 2000 members of the public and schoolchildren took part in ‘Mission: pest controllers’ in 2010. No one has looked at the pest controllers of the horse-chestnut leaf-mining moth before in such detail in the whole country, so this was really valuable scientific research.

We were interested in how many insects emerging from the leaf were the leaf-mining moths and how many were the natural pest controllers (tiny parasitic wasps) that had killed the developing moths. We expected there to be fewer pest controllers the further the sites were from London because the moth has spread from London.

Very few pest controllers were recorded, and they were not more common close to London than elsewhere. This suggests that the pest controllers that naturally occur in the countryside are not adapting to the presence of the horse-chestnut leaf-mining moth. However, we need to analyze this statistically to confirm this result and also need more data for 2011. Do take part in the mission this year!

Follow the links to take part in mission: alien moth survey and mission: pest controllers, or register your interest in our missions.

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Alien Moth

Mission: alien moth survey

Survey trees in your area – anywhere in the UK – for invading alien moths


The tiny moths are well camouflaged against bark (photo: Grahame Madge)

What are you looking for? The damage caused by the leaf-mining moth is often obvious, but it can be confused with other types of damage (see the photo below).


This mission ran from 2010 to 2013. We are currently setting up a new way of recording, which we will link to from this website site.

In 2011 we also produced a smartphone app (the LeafWatch app), although from 2014 onwards we can only offer very limited support for this app. It was one of the first apps of its kind (so now would need ot be updated to work efficiently), but we are keeping it on the App Store and Google Play for people’s reference.

All you need is:

  • A few minutes at a horse-chesntut tree anywhere in the country.

Your mission in brief:

  • Find a horse chestnut tree (see here for help with tree identification).
  • Look at the leaves near the bottom of the tree: can you see whitish blotches, made by the alien moth?
  • Find out the nearest postcode or write down the location so you can find the tree on a map.
  • Use the detailed instructions to decide how badly affected your tree is.
  • Submit the information to our database, even if your tree is not infected.
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Pest Control

Mission: pest controllers

Discover how many alien moths have been killed by pest controllers in your leaf, by recording which insects hatch from it.

From 2010 to 2013 we collected the results of this mission as part of a real science. From now on we are not collecting the results, but we have left the information here particualrly for school teachers who want to do the project with their class (it is ideal for key stages 2, 3 and 4 and fits into the school term in England & Wales) and naturalists who wish to discover more about parasitoids.

All you need is:

  • an infected conker tree
  • a ‘zip-lock’ bag
  • a magnifying glass or eye lens
  • a few minutes in early July to collect a leaf
  • a few minutes in late July to record your results

Your mission in brief:

  • Find your infected conker tree (see here for help with tree identification).  Record any information you will need to find the tree on a map.
  • During the first week of July, pick a leaf that is within your reach; choose from it one leaflet (a ‘finger’ of the hand-like leaf).
  • Record the number of leaf mines (whitish blotches) in the leaf.
  • Seal your leaf in a ‘zip-lock’ bag.
  • Wait until late July, then count and identify the tiny insects that emerge – are they alien moths, pest controllers, or other insects, like aphids?  If you can see one pest controller, that means one alien moth has been killed by it!
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Bird Attack

Mission: bird attack

Can blue tits save our conkers? Birds, such as blue tits attack the alien moths damaging conker trees.
(photo: Richard Broughton)

Discover whether birds can save our conker trees, by recording how many of the leaf-mining moths have suffered bird attacks.

This mission began in 2013 in response to questions posed by people participating in Conker Tree Science. From now on we are not collecting the results, but we have left the information here particularly for school teachers who want to do the project with their class (it is ideal for key stages 2, 3 and 4).

All you need is:

  • a few minutes looking at a conker tree which has leaves that have been damaged by the leaf mining moth.
  • take part any time durign the summer and early autumn (September is often ideal)
  • you don’t need to watch the birds themselves

Bird attacks are very distinctive. Here the top surface of the leaf, where the alien moth caterpillar was hiding, has been torn away by a bird.
(photo: Michael Pocock)

Your mission in brief:

  • Find your infected conker tree (see here for help with tree identification).
    Record any information you will need to find the tree on a map.  If you can’t find a conker tree that is infected, please complete Mission: alien moth survey instead.
  • Select a leaf that is within your reach and look at the whole leaf (all of the ‘fingers’ of the hand-like leaf).
  • Count the number of bird attacks.
  • Give the leaf a damage score.
  • Choose three other leaves from different parts of the same tree, and do the same (count bird attacks and give the leaf a damage score).
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If it’s green or wriggles, it’s Biology – If it stinks, it’s chemistry – If it doesn’t work, it’s Physics.

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For any questions, comments, or concerns, get in touch.

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