Devon Moth Group is celebrating the collection of one million moth sightings across the county.
The Group, which collects and checks all sightings of moths and their caterpillars reported in the county, has amassed the impressive total since its formation in 1997. The records date back to the mid-19th century and provide a long-term view of the changing wildlife of Devon.
The landmark millionth record was of a V-Pug, a small green moth with a characteristic black v-shaped mark on its wings, which was spotted by Devon Moth Group member Kevin Johns in his Newton Abbot garden.
Moth recording plays an important role in conservation as the information gathered shows which species are flourishing and which are in danger. The sightings then identify parts of Devon where threatened and declining moths still remain so that conservation action can be targeted effectively. All of the records gathered are shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, Devon Wildlife Trust and the UK-wide National Moth Recording Scheme.
Around 1,700 moth species have been recorded in Devon, some two-thirds of the total for Britain. These include nationally important species such as the rare Scarce Blackneck, Beautiful Gothic and Devonshire Wainscot.
The V-Pug, which has the scientific name Chloroclystis v-ata, is a widespread species in Devon. Its unobtrusive caterpillars feed on the flowers of a wide variety of plants including Bramble, Dog-rose, Elder, Hawthorn and Hemp-agrimony. V-Pug moths are often found in gardens, where they are beautifully camouflaged resting against mottled foliage and algae-covered bark.
Gardeners can do a great deal to help moths, including planting a variety of moth-friendly flowers for nectar, especially native plants, keeping a few areas rough and untidy, and avoiding the use of insecticides wherever possible.
Kevin Johns, who has been a regular contributor to the Devon moth database, was delighted to learn that his V-Pug record turned out to be the one that passed the million mark. He said that it was “a brilliant surprise, really quite special”. Being retired, Kevin has many interests, moths being just one of them. He describes his garden as a small courtyard with a few shrubs and flower beds, but importantly says it is close to mature woodland which means that a good number of moths are attracted to his light-trap to be noted and released unharmed. “I’m really pleased with what I get”, he added.
All the records submitted by volunteers in Devon are collated by the County Moth Recorder, Barry Henwood, who in turn passes them on to the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre whose manager, Ian Egerton, explains, “Devon Biodiversity Records Centre is a partnership-led organisation set up to gather information on Devon’s species and habitats. We ensure that biodiversity information feeds into decision-making locally and nationally, and over the last 25 years, our efforts have been underpinned significantly by the county’s huge network of volunteer recorders. Their passion and interest in specific species has created much of the data we now hold, and the level of knowledge and expertise within groups such as the Devon Moth Group, is key to supporting a conservation sector which could not operate without them”.
Sadly, moths, like so much of our wildlife, are in serious decline. For example, populations of the V-Moth (not to be confused with the V-Pug) have crashed by 99% in Britain since the 1960s, while the stunning Garden Tiger, once a familiar sight to naturalists, has slumped by 92%.