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12 Mar 2019

Mothbusting at Newhailes

Volunteers are helping tackle the moth problem at Newhailes
Volunteers are helping tackle the moth problem at Newhailes.
At number 47 on our 100 Ways list, we’re putting Newhailes’ precious collections in the deep freeze to stop the moths.

When a plague of clothes moths began threatening to harm the historic collection at Newhailes House, we decided it was time for our biggest ever management programme to rid the house of the insatiable insects.

To do this, we’ve combined a deep clean with a deep freeze. Two industrial freezers, each the size of a shipping crate, have been installed at the property and over the past few weeks, we’ve been systematically placing the entire textile collection – from carpets and curtains to sofas, chairs and clothing - in there. The sub-zero treatment freezes and destroys moth eggs and larvae.

Items are wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, then covered in polythene before being placed in the freezers where temperatures will drop to -35C (-31F). Staff then use specialist back-mounted vacuum cleaners to reach in to every nook and cranny of the house to clean away the moths.  

Items are carefully wrapped before being put in the deep freeze
Items are carefully wrapped before being placed in the deep freeze.

Staff at the property noticed a sharp rise in the ‘webbing clothes moth’ or common clothes moth in 2016 and have been managing the problem with localised treatment and targeted deep cleaning. Moth numbers, and damage, have continued and we’re implementing the freeze programme to protect the Newhailes collection.

We’ve used freezers to destroy moths at other properties, but on a small scale using chest-sized freezers. The two 6m long freezers that are being deployed at Newhailes represent the organisation’s biggest ever attempt to keep moth numbers down. 

“This is the biggest project that the National Trust for Scotland has ever undertaken to tackle a pest problem like this and protect the important collections here at Newhailes.”
Mel Houston, National Preventive Conservator
Mel Houston, National Preventative Conservator
Mel Houston, National Preventative Conservator

Mel continues: ‘In the last year moth numbers at Newhailes have exploded and we’ve seen a four-fold increase in how many we’re finding. We’re lucky to have been able to catch the problem at just the right time; when we’re able to do something to control the moths before really serious damage is done.

‘The deep freeze and deep clean gives us the confidence that we’re killing off as many moths as we can. We’ll never get rid of them completely but we’ll be able to get down to a level where they can be controlled.’

A team of mothbusting volunteers has been recruited to work with the Trust’s collection and conservation team to undertake the low temperature treatment, deep cleaning of the historic interior, and collection movements.

Over the course of the project, we’ll be running tours so members of the public can learn about the damage that the insects have caused and see the moth management programme in action.