Team of ‘mothbusters’ deployed at rare 17th-century Musselburgh house

National Trust Scotland volunteer Moth Busters. Picture by Stewart Attwood
National Trust Scotland volunteer Moth Busters. Picture by Stewart Attwood
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A TEAM of ‘mothbusters’ are being deployed at a rare 17th-century house after a plague of the insects threatened to harm a historic textile collection.

Carpets, curtains, sofas, and clothing at Newhailes House, near Musselburgh, will undergo a sub-zero treatment to freeze and destroy moth eggs and larvae.

Two 20ft long industrial freezers have been installed at the property and over the next two months, the entire textile collection will be frozen to rid the house of the insects.

Items will be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, then covered in polythene before being placed in the freezers where temperatures will drop to -35C.

Staff will then use specialist back-mounted vacuum cleaners to reach every part of the house to clean away the moths.

Owned by The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Newhailes House was once home to the influential Dalrymple dynasty for nearly 300 years.

The lawyers and politicians who were influential in circles in the 1700s gave the house its library, rococo interiors and collections of paintings, ceramics and furniture.

Staff at the property noticed a sharp rise in the ‘webbing clothes moth’ or common clothes moth in 2016.

They have been managing the problem with localised treatment and targeted deep cleaning.

But the moth number have continued to grow and now NTS say they will embark on the biggest project to tackle a pest problem it has ever undertaken.

The charity has used freezers to destroy moths at other properties but on a small scale using chest-sized freezers.

The industrial freezers that are being deployed at Newhailes represent the organisation’s biggest ever attempt to keep moth numbers down.

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

“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 the 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 and cleaning.

Over the course of the project, the NST will be running tours so members of the public can learn about the damage that the insects have caused.

To learn more about the project, go to www.nts.org.uk/visit/events/conservation-tour-moth-project