moth on leafA new report charting the numbers of moths in Britain over forty years makes grim reading. Climate change and habitat loss are driving some to extinction – especially in southern Britain.

Moths are perhaps not as popular as butterflies. But they are an important ‘indicator’ of how our native ecology is faring, a significant pollinator and source of food for birds, bats etc. Whilst many are subtly coloured, others are as eye-catching as their cousins.

The Butterfly Conservation report  says that two-thirds of common and widespread larger species of moth (macro-moths) declined in the last 40 years, most seriously in southern Britain. The report suggests that the decline in habitats through development and agricultural practices are the factors behind the decline in the south, whereas it sees climate change (a gradual warming) as a key factor in the broadly neutral results in the north – declines in some species have been matched by increases in others.

And climate change is also the explanation behind the growth in new species in the country. More than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain this century and 27 species have colonised Britain from the year 2000 onwards. However, the report says that three species have become extinct in the last 10 years and three more are at serious risk of extinction, having already declined by more than 90% in the last forty years.

What can gardeners do to create the right habitats for moths? The Royal Horticultural Society makes several suggestions about planting.

  • Night-flowering, nectar-rich plants, such as Nicotiana (Tobacco plant) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera) have evolved to feed night flying insects – and the wonderful evening scent of some is a bonus for any garden
  • Day flying moths can be served by plants such as Sea Lavender, Buddlejas, Red Valerian and Lychnis
  • It’s also important to provide food for caterpillars with plants such as Clarkia and Fuchsia. leaving a ‘wilder’ area of the garden with longer grasses, thistles and knapweeds will benefit smaller moths. Many native trees, hedges and ornamental plants also provide food sources fo moth caterpillars.
Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Kate Bradbury suggests:

‘Avoid using pesticides to give their caterpillars free rein on your plants (which will mostly only be nibbled a bit – so don’t worry).’

The website Mothscount says we also need to tolerate some untidiness in our gardens:

‘Moths and their caterpillars need fallen leaves, old stems and other plant debris to help them hide from predators, and especially to provide suitable places to spend the winter. It’s very helpful to delay cutting back old plants until the spring, rather than doing it in the autumn, and just generally be less tidy. If you want your garden to look tidy in the summer, try leaving some old plant material behind the back of borders or in other places out of sight…..’

All green form of the Red - Green Carpet Moth'

All green form of the Red – Green Carpet Moth

Further information:

Back Garden moth.org

Winners and losers in latest butterfly survey – 7 tips for gardeners

Old School Gardener

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