The decline of moths
Across Britain, large numbers of moths are in rapid decline – they need all the help we can give them.
Between 1968 and 2002 overall number of moths across Britain fell by a staggering one third. The populations of two out of every three species declined during this period. Numbers of some, like the well known Garden Tiger, fell by 80% or more during these 35 years. There is little reason to expect that numbers are not continuing to decline. Find out more on the Butterfly Conservation website.
Habitat loss and intensive farming probably explains most of the loss. But other factors like light pollution and climate change may play a part.
Available evidence suggests the moths of Devon are experiencing the same decline. Recorders report that they catch far fewer moths than they used to.
Since so many other animals depends on moths as source of food, from tiny wasps that parasitize caterpillars to birds and even dormice that feed on them, the fall in moth numbers may have serious consequences for much of our wildlife. Cuckoos, for example, feed on moth caterpillars.
Although the overall picture is bleak, there is still some good news. Quite a number of species have colonised Devon, and other southerly counties, from across the Channel. The most famous of these is the spectacular Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria, which first became established in Devon about 130 years ago. Some of the colonising species have spread to other counties, and other new ones continue to arrive from mainland Europe or other parts of Britain.
Conservation priorities for Devon moths
From a long-list of the moths (both micro-moths and macro-moths) for which Devon has a special conservation responsibility (full details here), nine species have been selected as Devon Special Species. These species, their habitat requirements and conservation actions are listed in an action plan:
What you can do
- Make records. We need to know as much as we can about the distribution of moths in Devon. Without this information, we cannot tell what is happening to our moths, or know how best to take action to conserve them. Long-term studies which record numbers of moths in a particular place are especially valuable. More about recording moths.
- Join Butterfly Conservation. This organisation is very active in establishing reserves and conservation projects for moths (as well as butterflies), promoting much needed research and surveys, helping to promote moths among the public, and influencing politicians.
- Help to manage local places where moths live though volunteering with organisations like Butterfly Conservation, the Devon Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.
- Make your garden more attractive to moths. You will be helping a whole range of wildlife, from bees and hoverflies to birds, at the same time. More about moths and gardening.
- Target one particular species of conservation concern, to find out more about is distribution, population size and particular habitat requirements.