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British moths declining significantly says new report

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credit: Butterfly Conservation / Rachel Scopes

Huge numbers of British moths are disappearing into the darkness forever, with three species becoming extinct in the last decade and two-thirds in decline, according to a new report.

The Orange Upperwing, Bordered Gothic and Brighton Wainscot moths have vanished from Britain, the Butterfly Conservation report said, and some once common garden species such as the V-moth, Garden Tiger and the Spinach are set to follow with numbers dropping by more than 90% in 40 years.

Overall, 67% of common and widespread larger moth species (also called macro-moths) decreased in number between 1968 and 2007, with more than a third declining by more than 50%, according to the report which was carried out with Rothamsted Research.

Chris Packham, Butterfly Conservation vice-president said: “Larger moths are key indicator species that let us know how our environment is faring in a period of unprecedented environmental change.

“As well as being important pollinators, moths are an absolutely vital cog in the food chain for other species such as birds and bats. The dramatic and ongoing loss of moth abundance highlighted in this report signals a potentially catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the British countryside.”

The declines are thought to be primarily due to habitat loss although increased fertility of soil and water as a result of nutrients released into the environment, climate change and light pollution could also have played a role.

A shortage of larval food plants may also have had an impact on some moths. The V-moth, which has decreased by 99% in 40 years with most of the decline occurring since 1996, depends on currant and gooseberry bushes to provide food for its larvae and it’s thought that decreased cultivation of these plants, along with increased use of insecticides, may have caused this species’ decline.

The report identified a clear divide between north and south. In the southern half of Britain, the abundance of larger moths decreased by 40% while in the north, there was no significant change.

The difference is likely to be due to greater habitat loss in the south and the effects of climate change in the north, which has allowed some species of moths to extend their distribution.

While many once common species of moths are in danger, the last decade has also seen an unprecedented influx of new species into Britain. More than 100 species of macro- and micro-moths have been recorded for the first time in Britain and 27 have become resident since 2000. Climate change and availability of non-native host plants are thought to be key drivers of the increase.

Butterfly Conservation has established the Moth Challenge Fund to support conservation projects across the UK, you can donate here: www.justgiving.com/moth-challenge-fund

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