Updated: Nov 28, 2022
By Louise Barnetson
Manhood Wildlife & Heritage Group (MWHG) has been going Moth Mad over the last few weeks. Incredibly, there are over 2,500 species of moth in the UK, compared to around 60 butterfly species. We rarely get to see moths up close and in detail as most of them fly at night and even when we do see one it is often a fleeting glimpse. It is easy to underestimate just how many of these amazing creatures are all around us and how important they are to ecosystems.
We've been setting out our moth trap at various locations across Birdham, East Wittering, West Wittering and Itchenor for Friday morning moth surveying sessions with our volunteers. MWHG is lucky to have some generous volunteers and supporters who have kindly allowed us to use their private gardens - and supplied much-needed teas and coffees to our volunteers - to support this work. Moth trapping involves the use of an artificial light source to attract moths during the night. The moths are then carefully removed from the trap and painstakingly identified and photographed during the morning, before being set free. The photos and records are then uploaded to iRecord which feeds into the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.
According to Butterfly Conservation, "During the twentieth century, 62 species of moth became extinct in Britain and many others are considered to be nationally threatened." Furthermore, the situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40%.
Recording moths is key to protecting these beautiful creatures and contributes towards their conservation in the UK. The decreases in moth populations are bad news for other wildlife too - moths and their caterpillars are important food items for many other species, including amphibians, small mammals, bats and many bird species.
Most moth caterpillars prefer specific plants, and some adult moths don’t eat at all. The larvae of the Barred Straw moth pictured above feed mainly on various Bedstraws. The adult Elephant Hawkmoth, pictured at the beginning of this blog, feeds only on nectar from plants such as honeysuckle and other tubular flowers, and its larvae prefers to feed on Rosebay Willowherb. The caterpillars of the Magpie Moth, pictured below, favour hedgerow species such as Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Hazel, and Bramble. The more diverse the food plants on offer, the more moth species will be present, and the more predators can be supported, including bats.
The process of identifying the moths is interesting and rewarding, and it's a real treat to get up close to these beautiful invertebrates, most of which you hardly ever get to see during daylight hours. The immense diversity of moths really is incredible. Whilst some moths are experts in the art of camouflage - disguising themselves as lichen, tree bark, twigs or even bird poo - others come out at night dressed for the disco, such as the extravagant Elephant Hawk Moth. Then there's those that are obviously trying to compete with their butterfly 'cousins' for sheer beauty, such as the Brimstone Moth or the Common Emerald.
Brimstone Moth - not to be confused with the Brimstone Butterfly. One of 57 species we recorded at our Birdham site.
Common Emerald, one of 49 species we recorded at our East Wittering site.
The Poplar Grey Moth, easy to see against the green grass in this photo, its camouflage makes it hard to spot against tree bark or stone.
If you want to help moths in your garden, then avoid using pesticides, plant native plants and trees, and leave a few areas to grow wild. Who knows how many moth species you'll attract!