Moths are declining in the UK. Studies have found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28% since 1968.
The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40%. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century. Sadly, among the species which have declined are many beautiful moths which were previously very common and frequently seen in our gardens.
These alarming decreases in moth populations are not just bad news for the moths themselves, but also have worrying implications for the rest of our wildlife. Moths and their caterpillars are important food items for many other species, including amphibians, small mammals, bats and many bird species. Moth caterpillars are especially important for feeding young chicks, including those of most familiar garden birds such as the Blue Tit and Great Tit, Robin, Wren and Blackbird. A serious decline in moth numbers could have disastrous knock-on effects for all these wildlife species. Already, research has indicated that a decrease in the abundance of bats over farmland is related to the decline in the moths that they depend on.
As part of the Greener Padbury Group’s focus on increasing biodiversity in the village and wood, we have been monitoring the Millenium Wood for moths over the past months. So far, a total of 96 individual moths, representing more than 30 species have been identified. Moths were trapped on 24th March, 25th May and 28th May 2022 using a portable actinic-light trap.
The battery-powered trap consists of a fluorescent light on top of a box. Night-flying moths find their way to the light and fall through a 'letter-box' slit into the chamber of the box below. Once here, they settle and hide on upturned egg-boxes, and they remain there until they can be photographed, identified and released unharmed the following morning. The lamp does not get hot, and the moths are not normally harmed in any way by trapping. Some moths don't feed as adults, and so they are not even deprived of a night's food.
The numbers of individuals, and of species, vary greatly with weather conditions. Moths are most abundant and numerous on warm, wind-free, moonless nights. Larger moths (for example the Hawk-moths) are seen more commonly on warmer and stiller nights, whereas on cooler nights it is generally only smaller species that fly. The moth species found so far in the Woods include Chocolate-tip, Flame Shoulder, Hebrew Character, Light Emerald, Maiden's Blush, Pale Prominent, Pale Tussock, Poplar Hawk-moth, Scorched Wing, Small Square-spot, and White Ermine.
The Millennium Woods is not an ancient wood. It does not have the variety and types of vegetation that are associated with ancient woods, and therefore the woods in Padbury cannot support the variety of moths (and insects in general) associated with ancient woodlands, for example the Silver-Washed Fritillary, and Black Hairstreak butterflies, and the Lappet moth, all of which can be found in ancient woodland in Bucks. Nonetheless, the fact that such a number of moth species have already been found in the Padbury Woods is very encouraging.
Moths, alongside all insects, play a vital role in nearly all terrestrial ecosystems, and they are a good indicator of the general health and richness of their habitat. It is hoped that if the planned work to help increase biodiversity in the Millennium Woods is carried out, then an increase in the numbers and types of moths will be observed, and the trapping and recording that will continue over the coming weeks and in to the Autumn will serve as a baseline from which to monitor change.
If you would like to learn more about why moths matter, visit: https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter
If you would like to know more, or to be involved with the trapping and identification, please contact Robert Manasse on 01280 820540, or firstname.lastname@example.org.