Online mapping to save UK moths

More than six million detailed sightings of Britain's endangered moth population have been made available to the public for the first time.

People have been studying and recording moths in the UK for centuries but the launch of the mothscount websitemarks the first time such a large amount of moth data has been collated giving conservationists a new understanding of British moths.

At the fourth annual Moth and Bat Evening held at the Houses of Parliament this week, naturalist and broadcaster Nick Baker and leading environmentalist Chris Baines will unveil the unique online mapping resource that will play an important role in assessing the fortunes of some of Britain's 900 species of larger moths.

The findings are the result of recorded moth sightings by thousands of members of the public. The data has been collated by the National Moth Recording Scheme as part of the Butterfly Conservation's Moths Count project which received funding of £806,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The tool means that for the first time it is possible to map the distribution of moths across the UK which will provide the foundations for vital conservation initiatives leading in to the International Year of Biodiversity 2010.

Moths are an essential part of the UK's ecosystems with many of the UK's threatened bat species relying on moths as part of their diet. The Moths Count online mapping tool follows the success of the Big Bat Map which launched in August as part of the HLF funded Count Bat project.

The Big Bat Map (also supported by of London's City Bridge Trust and Natural England) allows the public to log any bat sightings on the interactive map for everyone to see and so far it has helped the Bat Conservation Trust to flag bat hotspots and new roosts.

Nick Baker said: "Bats and moths - these denizens of the dark require a certain amount of determination to understand and get to know better; but slowly we are and what we are finding is frightening. We've known bat numbers have been crashing for many years but what we were not aware of was that this may be linked to a massive slide in populations of some of what were regarded as our common garden moth species.

"Both of these highly tuned and environmentally sensitive groups of creatures can tell us a lot about the health of our world as well as making that world a more fascinating one for us to live in. Bats need moths and we need moths and bats."

Hosted by Madeleine Moon MP, the Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation and the Heritage Lottery Fund, this year's Moth and Bat Evening will be widely attended by MPs and Parliamentarians including Lord Davies of Oldham, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra). Guests will be able to see moths and bats up close and the evening highlighted the plight of both threatened species that are essential to the UK's delicate eco-system.

Moths and bats have both been victims of negative perceptions, making them less desirable for attention than other endangered animals. Both are in significant decline; the numbers of moths has dropped by a third since 1968 while bats experienced a major decline throughout Europe during the last century.

Madeleine Moon MP said: "This is the fourth year that I have hosted this event in Parliament, and I hope that good attendance from parliamentarians at the event will be an indication of the growing appreciation and understanding of the importance of biodiversity, and of moths and bats and vital indicators of the health of the UK's biodiversity."

Speaking on behalf of the HLF, leading environmentalist Chris Baines said: "Anyone who remembers the long lost summer ritual of scraping moths off car windscreens will realise how much their numbers have declined and what important environmental indicators they can be.

"Anyone concerned with the conservation of old buildings or veteran trees will know how often it is a threatened bat colony that provides the stay of execution. These are immensely important creatures and through their conservation the Heritage Lottery Fund is helping a great many people to participate in practical environmental action."