A world-leading research project carried out by thousands of volunteers from all over the UK has shed new light on conservation issues.
The newly-published Provisional Atlas of the UK’s Larger Moths contains up-to-date maps showing the distributions of 868 moth species, many of which have never been published before. The maps are based on a staggering 11.3 million moth records and is the culmination of four years work by the National Moth Recording Scheme, led by Butterfly Conservation. The Atlas is the compilation of centuries of citizen science undertaken by members of the public.
Initial findings from the huge data set include a pattern of considerable decline among some common moth species. These species include the Lappet moth, an amazing species that looks like a leaf and has a ‘snout’ that resembles a leaf stalk. This creature used to be common across central and southern England but has retreated to a few strongholds. Another once-widespread moth, the Stout Dart, now appears to be on the brink of extinction.
Scarcer moths have also suffered serious declines, including the Wood Tiger, Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, GoldSwift, Dew Moth, Light Feathered Rustic and Silvery Arches. Moths make up a substantial portion of the UK’s biodiversity and their caterpillars are a vital part of the food chain for many birds and other wildlife. The Atlas and the database underlying it is a vital new resource to help society make informed decisions about the environment and to enable scientists to investigate the causes of the dramatic changes revealed by the maps.
Interestingly, the new maps also show that some of Britain’s moth populations are heading northwards, almost certainly as a result of climate change. Types of moth previously confined to southern parts of Britain are now being found in the north or even in Scotland. Examples of species moving north include the beautiful Lime Hawk-moth and striking Red Underwing. At the same time new moths are arriving in Britain from mainland Europe. Since the turn of the century 28 new species have been seen in the UK for the first time. These include the Beautiful Marbled, Patton’s Tiger and Minsmere Crimson Underwing. Some recent arrivals have successfully colonised southern parts of Britain, such as Clancy’s Rustic, Small Ranunculus and Oak Rustic.
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