Doug became hooked on moths aged 12. Then came butterflies, and at 16 he became the County Butterfly Recorder for Montgomeryshire. He is currently doing a PhD on the effects of light pollution on moth populations with Newcastle University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and BC.
What does the role of County Butterfly Recorder involve?
My job is to coordinate butterfly recording in the county. I am in contact with regular recorders on the ground (around 20 or so), as well as collating records from our large recording schemes such as the Big Butterfly Count. I receive three or four thousand records a year, which I check for possible errors before sending them back to BC. It sounds a lot, but four thousand records is actually pretty low compared to some counties so I consider myself lucky!
What came first for you, butterflies or moths?
Moths came first! That is unusual I think, but when I was 12 I went on a course led by Nick Baker and was completely fascinated. The fact that you could set a trap and come back the next morning to see these cool insects waiting for you! I got my own trap and that was the start of it.
The county moth group in Montgomeryshire were key in supporting my interest. There were monthly moth trapping evenings where you would see a core group of ten or so people every time. They were great fun, lots of cake eating and lots of banter. Always plenty of banter! I think these kinds of groups are really important in encouraging people to make the leap from enjoying a hobby to having the confidence to submit their records.
Any particularly memorable mothing moments?
When I was finally old enough to drive, I got my own car and would set out to trap at sites in the middle of nowhere, miles from anything. One night I spotted some headlights approaching, and as it came nearer I realised it was police car. It turned out there had been reports of sheep rustling and a police officer patrolling the mountains had spotted the light from my trap and had come to check it out. He was very understanding and actually very interested to find out what I had caught!
That occasion was memorable for two reasons because that night I trapped a huge number of Ashworth’s Rustics – a rare moth that occurs in North Wales. It was a complete surprise, and the first record of the moth in that 10km square.
Tell us a bit about your PhD…
The over-arching question I’m hoping to answer is whether light pollution has contributed to the declines in moths over the last fifty years or so. The plan is to use BC data to look at whether changes in moth communities correspond to changes in street lighting. I’ll also be doing manipulative experiments with street light rigs. Right now I’m doing observational studies, sampling moth communities (caterpillars, not the adults) directly under street lights and then comparing these with nearby communities unaffected by the lights. I can’t say too much yet, but there are some really interesting (and worrying) results coming out.
Would you recommend volunteering to others?
Yes definitely. Of course it depends on the individual as to what they’d like to get out of it, but for me, as well as being rewarding and enjoyable, it has helped to develop my interests and has certainly given me an edge in university applications.