Moths move north

Britain's moth populations are heading northwards, almost certainly as a result of climate change.

Types of moth previously confined to southern parts of the UK are now being found in the north or even in Scotland. At the same time new moths are arriving in Britain from mainland Europe.

Britain has around 2,500 species of moth. Their caterpillars are a vital part of the food chain for birds and other wildlife. In response to research showing that moth numbers were in rapid decline, threatening the country's biodiversity, Butterfly Conservation launched the National Moth Recording Scheme in 2007.

The new scheme monitors sightings provided by thousands of volunteers throughout the UK and has just notched up its five millionth recorded sighting - a Spectacle moth at Yarner Wood in south Devon.

Richard Fox, Manager of the National Moth Recording Scheme, said: "We're just beginning to analyse what is going to be a vast and internationally important database.

"Moths have a lot to tell us. Their declines alert us to deterioration in the environment. Where they are found can also tell us something significant about climate change."

Using comparisons with historical information, it has been possible to gain an idea of the rate at which some moths are moving north.

Examples include:

Orange Footman, which has spread almost 150 miles northwards in three decades (from Norfolk and southern England to north Yorkshire) Lime Hawk-moth, which has spread almost 70 miles northwards (from Humberside to County Durham).

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 of these species are now able to overwinter and breed in Britain.

Richard added: "The results so far are fascinating and show us how important moths are as indicators of our changing environment. The database is growing rapidly and provides vital information to protect threatened species".

Moth recording is increasing in popularity and you don't have to be an expert to help. You can contact your local county moth recorder with your sightings and these will be added to the database.