No Mow May 2022

Just days into May the flowers begin. Image – Oli Haines

Throughout May 2022 Plantlife have once again made their impassioned annual plea for garden owners across the UK to resist the urge to mow lawns and tidy up their gardens and to join in with #NoMowMay. It’s a simple enough premise to leave grassy areas alone for a month, and it has huge benefits for biodiversity at this time of year to do so, giving a wide variety of flowering plants a chance to bloom early in appeal to our rich network of vital pollinators.

As in 2021, we here at NHBS have participated this year by letting the grassy areas on our premises flower and the results were quickly quite astounding. Within days there was a carpet of daisies and dandelions, Germander Speedwell and Black and Spotted Medic, and, as the month progressed and we explored further, the picture grew more and more complex. Tangles of Common Vetch, Creeping Buttercup and Common Mouse-ear proliferated, and tall fronds of Beaked Hawk’s Beard, Ribwort Plantain and Prickly Sow-thistle appeared. Hidden deep within a mixed mat of grasses the miniscule flowers of Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill, Thyme-leaved Speedwell and Scarlet Pimpernel flourished and, at the lawn edges, tall stands of Garlic Mustard and Cleavers towered over the last of the seasons Bluebell flowers.

It can still feel strangely radical to let an area of public space, or even a private garden, to grow wild. Perhaps it can feel like going against the flow to sit back and not mow or trim the grass, and to embrace a modicum of wild chaos. Much of our wildlife relies on the flowering plants that we suppress with our tidiness and our control of lawns. Multitudes of beetles, bees, ants, moths and butterflies have evolved alongside plants that, given half a chance, can still thrive in our green spaces. No Mow May offers us a glimpse into this rich relationship, this conversation in time, and it provides a lifeline. One flower that showed up in our lawn here, by way of an example, is the Cuckoo flower or Lady’s Smock, a light and elegant pink flower of grasslands that is almost exclusively selected by the Orange-tip (and Green-veined White) butterfly in spring to lay their eggs on, as it feeds the caterpillars when they hatch. Growing up to 50cm in height its reach is well within the mowing range.

In addition to the No Mow May initiative, Plantlife have also introduced Every Flower Counts, a citizen science survey that asks participants to count, record and report back the flowers found in a single metre squared patch of lawn . This will enable them to gather important data on the impact that leaving areas to grow can have on abundance and biodiversity.

As May winds to a close, species are still beginning to emerge in our lawn ready to flower in June: Spear Thistle, Oxeye Daisy, members of the Carrot family and, with a final flourish of the month, a Bee Orchid slowly opens its blooms right by the footway, surprisingly cryptic until you meet it at ground level.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). Image – Oli Haines

We hope that we can leave our grass uncut for a little longer so we can see who’s still there to flower, and that those of you who have participated in No Mow May may feel inspired to do the same.

Below is a list (in no particular order) of the flowering plants we discovered on our premises during No Mow May this year and a small selection of guides for wildflowers and grasses, plus some suggested reads for those who have inspired to take wild gardening further.

  1. White Clover – Trifolium repens
  2. Red Clover – Trifolium pratense
  3. Common Vetch – Vicia Sativa
  4. Germander Speedwell – Veronica chamaedrys
  5. Common Speedwell – Veronica persica
  6. Thyme-leaved Speedwell – Veronica serpyllifolia
  7. Common Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
  8. Common Daisy – Bellis Perennis
  9. Meadow Buttercup – Ranunculus acris
  10. Creeping Buttercup – Ranunculus repens
  11. Cuckoo Flower – Cardamine pratensis
  12. Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
  13. Spotted Medick – Medicago Arabica
  14. Black Medick – Medicago lupulina
  15. Bluebell – Hyacinthoides non-scripta
  16. Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill – Geranium dissectum
  17. Common Mouse-ear – Cerastium fontanum
  18. Ribwort Plantain ­– Plantago lanceolata
  19. Bee Orchid – Ophrys apifera
  20. Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum
  21. Oxeye daisy – Leucanthemum vulgare
  22. Beaked Hawk’s-beard – Crepis vesicaria
  23. Catsear – Hypochaeris radicata
  24. Broad-leaved Dock – Rumex obtusifolius
  25. Sheep’s Sorrel – Rumex acetosella
  26. Southern Marsh/spotted Orchid Hybrid
  27. Creeping Cinquefoil – Potentilla reptans
  28. Primrose – Primula vulgaris
  29. Common Ragwort – Senecio jacobaea
  30. Hemlock – Conium maculatum
  31. Hemlock Water Dropwort – Oenanthe crocata
  32. Cuckoo-pint – Arum alpinum
  33. Scarlet Pimpernel – Anagallis arvensis
  34. Nipplewort – Lapsana communis
  35. Bristly Oxtongue – Helminthotheca echioides
  36. Cleavers – Galium aparine
  37. Ivy-Leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria muralis
  38. Wood Avens – Geum urbanum
  39. Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata
  40. Red Valarian – Centranthus ruber
  41. Hoary Willowherb – Epilobium parviflorum
  42. Broad-leaved Willowherb – Epilobium montanum
  43. Fringed Willowherb – Epilobium ciliatum
  44. Procumbent Pearlwort – Sagina procumbens
  45. Groundsel – Senecio vulgaris
  46. Cornsalad – Valerianella locusta
  47. Spear Thistle – Cirsium vulgare
  48. Prickly Sow-thistle – Sonchus asper
  49. Common Nettle – Urtica dioica
  50. Lesser Trefoil – Trifolium dubium

 Suggested books and equipment

Wild Flower Flowcharts Species: ID the Easy Way
Spiralbound | March 2022
£6.99

 

 

A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes
Spiralbound | April 2016
£11.99

 

 

 

 

The Wild Flower Key: How to identify wild flowers, trees and shrubs in Britain and Ireland
Paperback | March 2006
£24.99

 

 

 

Harrap’s Wild Flowers: A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland
Paperback | November 2018
£19.99

 

 

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | June 2016
£24.99

 

 

 

Making a Wildflower Meadow: The Definitive Guide to Grassland Gardening
Paperback | February 2015
£16.99

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening: For Everyone and Everything
Paperback | April 2019
£14.99

 

 

 

Q1 Quadrat
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Q2 Quadrat
£15.50

 

 

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens 23mm 10x Magnification
£12.95 £14.95

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

The NHBS Guide to UK Wader Identification

Waders, also known as shorebirds, are a part of the order Charadriiformes and are most commonly found along the shoreline and in coastal habitats such as mudflats, saltmarshes and estuaries.  These species feed by wading in shallow water for small invertebrates. Thus, many species in this order have long legs and a long bill.

Almost all wader species are ground-nesting birds. They build their nests either on the shoreline or inland habitats with short vegetation such as farmland and heathland. This makes them vulnerable to disturbance, from walkers and dogs, and to many predators. While most of the species in this article are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN red list (except the curlew, which is near threatened), many wader species are considered critically endangered. All the species mentioned below are placed on either the Red or Amber Birds of Conservation Consern 4 list. In the UK, the main threats are climate change and human development, reducing suitable nesting habitats. As farmers are pressured to increase their yield, less of their land is left available for nesting birds. Additional threats include pollution, changes in river management, changes to habitats such as afforestation or wetland drainage and dredging. Therefore, these threats, along with a high number of predators, are causing many wader populations to decline.

Luckily, many can still be seen while birdwatching along UK coastlines. A pair of binoculars or a scope are useful for spotting identifying features without disturbing the birds. A notebook or birdwatching journal can help you keep track of everything you’ve seen. It would also be best to bring a field guide to other wader species not mentioned in this article, a selection of which have been listed below.

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Distribution: Here all year round, curlews can be seen along the whole of UK’s coastline, with the largest populations in areas such as the Solway Firth, the Wash, and the Severn, Humber and Thames estuaries.
Size: Length: 48–57cm, Wingspan: 89–106cm
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: Curlews are the largest wader in Europe, a mottled brown bird that visits the coasts around the UK in winter, but can be found inland in heath and moor and upland habitats. Nationally, their numbers are in steep decline. They have a distinctive long delicate downward curved bill and an evocative and somewhat haunting call.

Curlew by peterichman via Flickr
Redshank (Tringa tetanus)

Distribution: Occuring in wetland areas such as estuaries, saltmarshes and flood meadows, they’re widespread across the UK, although the breeding population is greatest in Scotland and northern England.
Size:
 L: 24–27cm, WS: 47–53cm
BoCC4 Status:
Amber
What to look for:
Redshanks are small mottled brown waders with bright orange-red legs and an orange-red bill tipped with black. In-flight, they have darkly tipped wings with a bright white stripe on the trailing edge. They can often be seen foraging along the tideline on the coast and at estuaries and marshes.

Common redshank by Imran Shah via Flickr
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Distribution: Widespread along UK’s coastline, they’re also found in most major estuaries and occasionally inland flooded gravel pits and large rivers.
Size: L: 39–44cm, WS: 72–83cm
BoCC4 status: Amber
What to look for: Oystercatchers are a common and unmistakable wader around the UK coastline. They have bold black and white markings, a long bright orange-red bill and long pinkish-red legs. They are very vocal birds and their distinctive piping call can often be heard as they tour rock pools and the tide line.

Oystercatcher by Paul Asman and Jill Lenobie via Flickr
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Distribution: Found in habitats such as farmland and estuaries, they occur throughout the UK but particularly in lowland areas of northern England and eastern Scotland.
Size: L: 28–31cm, WS: 82–87cm
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: From afar and in flight, Lapwings appear black and white with long rounded wings and a wavering flight pattern. Up close they are a beautiful petrol green colour on top and white below. They have a long crest on their head, large dark eyes (underlined with a black line) and red legs.
Did you know? They are also known as peewit, an old name honouring their plaintive and distinctive call.

Lapwing by Michele Lamberti via Flickr
(Pied) Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Distribution: This more restricted species can been seen along the east coast in coastal lagoons during the summer, and around sheltered estuaries of south-west England and south Wales during the winter.
Size: L: 42–46cm, WS: 67–77cm
BoCC4 status: Amber
What to look for: These very graceful white and black waders are unmistakable, with long, slim grey legs and a distinctive upturned bill that they use to filter food from the tideline in a characteristic side-to-side sweep of their head.
Did you know? Successful recolonisation of this species in 1947, after its extinction within the UK, led to their adoption by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) as their logo.

Avocet by Ian Joseph via Flickr
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Distribution: Widespread, this species is found on moorland and well-vegetated wetlands across the UK.
Size: L: 23–28cm, WS: 39–45cm
BoCC4 status: Amber
What to look for: Snipe have short legs and a long, straight bill, with mottled brown feathers on their back and head. Recognisable features are the buff stripes along their back and alternate pale and dark stripes across their head. Their underparts are pale, with a heavily marked chest. When tucked, their wings fall short of the tail and point upwards slightly.

Snipe by peterichman via Flickr
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Distribution: In summer, this wader species can mainly be found along rivers, lakes and reservoirs in Scotland, northern England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In winter, they aremore likely to occur along the south coast, and in spring and autumn, they can be found throughout other parts of the UK, near freshwater habitats and some estuaries.
Size: L: 19–21cm, WS: 32–35cm
BoCC4 status: Amber
What to look for: Common sandpipers may initially seem similar visually to snipe, but there are several key differences. This species has the same contrasting brown upperparts and paler, white underparts, but it is a more striking difference in this species. The common sandpiper has a smaller bill and, most importantly, lacks the stripe patternation of the snipe. They can also be identified through their habitual bobbing motion, called ‘teetering’, and the distinct three-note call they give before they fly off.

Common sandpiper by Rob Zweers via Flickr
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

Distribution: Found around much of the UK coast in suitable habitats, such as shingle beaches, they’re also occasionally found on reservoirs and inland flooded gravel pits.
Size: L: 18–20cm, WS: 48–57cm
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: This charming species has a brownish-grey back and head, with pale underparts. Their distinctive features are the black and white rings around their neck and the patternation on their face. This bird also has orange legs and a striking orange bill with a black tip. They can be mistaken for a similar species, the little ringed plover (Charadrius dubious). However, that species lacks the orange bill and has bright yellow eyes. The little ringed plover, as the name suggests, is also a smaller species.

Ringed plover by Ekaterine Chernetsova (Papchinskaya) via Flickr
Suggested reading and equipment:

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide

£19.99

 

 

 

 

Waders of Europe: A Photographic Guide

£39.99

 

 

 

Shorebirds in Action: An Introduction to Waders and their Behaviour

£17.50 £21.95

 

 

Waders of Europe, Asia and North America

£29.99

 

 

 

 

Hawke Optics Frontier HD X: 8 x 42

£299.00

See our full range of binoculars

The NHBS Guide to UK Coastal Bird Identification

The UK coast is home to many different bird species, which play a key role in the coastal ecosystems. They depend, directly and indirectly, on the marine and coastal environment. Seabirds are often used as bioindicators of marine ecosystems as they are easy to detect and survey, and are top predators; their presence and abundance can indicate the health and status of the habitat and food chain.

This guide contains some key identification features to look out for while out birdwatching by the coast. It is possible to see birds along our coastline throughout the year, but in late spring and early summer, particularly around June, many seabird species are feeding chicks. This is, therefore, the best time of year to spot some of our iconic coastal birds.

Very little equipment is needed for birdwatching, but it is generally recommended to bring a pair of binoculars or a scope, as this helps to see the less obvious features that aid in identifying species. These also allow you to observe without getting too close and disturbing the wildlife. A pen and notebook to keep a record of the species you spot is also a good idea, along with a field guide for the species not mentioned on this list.

Herring gull (Larus argentatus)

Size: length (L): 54-60 cm, wingspan (WS): 123-148cm

A widespread and common (though declining) gull species across the UK. They are large white birds with grey back and wings (tipped with black), a yellow bill and pink legs, and can be seen far inland in almost any habitat from the coast to farmland, moorland, town and city. This highly versatile species is our archetypal ‘seagull’.

Herring Gull by Ian Preston via Flickr
Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus)

Size: L: 48-56cm, WS: 117-134cm

Slightly smaller than the herring gull with darker slate-grey back and wings. Look out for yellow legs which are a key identifier of this species. Favours rocky coasts but is also found inland in mixed flocks with other gulls and around inland lakes.

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Francesco Veronesi via Flickr
Great black-backed gull (Larus Marinus)

Size: L: 61-74cm, WS: 144-166cm

These are very large and stocky gulls with a dark grey back and wings, a thick-set yellow bill and pink legs. This species are far more prominent along coastal areas and nest largely on rocky islands.

Great Black-backed Gull by Tony Hisgett via Flickr
Black-headed gull (Larus fuscus)

Size: L: 35-39cm, WS: 86-99cm

Another widespread and common species often found inland, black-headed gulls have white heads for most of the year, often with a prominent black ear spot. In the summer, adult birds heads turns a dark chocolaty brown. They also have a red bill and red legs.

Black-headed Gull by Ian Preston via Flickr
Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Size: L: 37-42cm, WS: 93-105 cm

A somewhat slight looking gull, white bodied with pale grey back and wings and black wing tips. They have a small yellow bill, dark eyes and black legs. Predominantly a summer breeding species in the UK and very rarely seen away from the coast, though they are known to form colonies within urban areas near ports.

Kittiwake by Richard Toller via Flickr
Common tern (Sterna hirundo)

Size: L: 34-37cm, WS: 70-80 cm

Slight, slender and angular birds, often breeding in colonies around coastal lakes and lagoons, common terns are bright white with a light grey back and wings, a deeply forked tail, black cap and red legs and bill. Their bill has a black tip.

Common Tern by Jevgenijs Slihto via Flickr
Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea)

Size: L:33-39cm, WS: 66-77 cm

For much of the UK Arctic terns will be spotted on passage during their incredibly long migration. They are superficially similar to common tern though their bill is usually plain red with no black tip.

Arctic Tern by Lindsay Robinson via Flickr
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

Size: L: 43-52cm, WS: 101-117 cm

Fulmar, though gull like in appearance, are petrels, related to albatrosses and shearwaters. They have a thick-set ‘tube-nose’ bill which they can spit foul-smelling oil from to deter predators from their nesting sites. They nest on sheer cliff faces and fly on stiff and shallow wing beats.

Fulmar by Nick Goodrum via Flickr
Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Size: L: 85-97cm, WS: 170-192 cm

Gannets are large white seabirds with a distinctive yellow head and long pointed wings with black tips. They also have a long pointed grey bill and white pointed tale. They can be seen flying high over the sea and circling before plunging at great speeds into the water in pursuit of food.

Gannet by Caroline Legg via Flickr
Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Size: L: 38-46cm, WS: 61-73 cm

Guillemots come to land only in the summer to breed and do so in large colonies on sheer cliff faces. Adult birds can often be seen ‘rafting’ at sea below the colony also. They have a brown/black head, back, wings and tail and white underneath. There is also a ‘bridled’ form where the birds have a white ring around their eye with a stripe behind it.

Guillemot by Kweevnidny via Flickr
Razorbill (Alca torda)

Size: L: 38-43cm, WS: 60-69 cm

Razorbills are superficially similar to guillemot: black on their wings, back, head and tail and white underneath. An easy distinction between the species can be made however, by the razorbills deep thick-set blunt bill, where the guillemot has a longer slim bill. They are another summer breeder, wintering in the northern Atlantic, and favouring sheer rocky cliffs and islands for nesting.

Razorbill by Theleastweasel via Flickr
Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Size: L: 28-34cm, WS: 50-60 cm

Unmistakeable small seabirds with a black back and white underneath. They have a white face with dark eyes set in dark triangular markings and an iconic vibrantly colourful bill. They are a summer visitor predominantly in large nesting colonies on islands, where they nest in burrows along vast grassy banks.

Puffin by Jason Thompson via Flickr
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Size: L: 77-94cm, WS: 121-149 cm

A large long-necked black bird, with a white face and yellow and grey bill. Cormorants are often seen inland on rivers and lakes, and in harbours where they extensively dive for their food and then stand to dry with their wings characteristically spread wide.

Cormorant by Dirk-Jan van Roest via Flickr
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Size: L: 68-78cm, WS: 95-110 cm

Shags are similar in appearance to cormorants though smaller, with a slimmer bill. Adult birds are entirely black (lacking the white face of cormorants) though still they have a yellow and grey bill. Shags are more strictly coastal and seldom seen inland, they also have a distinctive black crest on the top of their head.

Shag by Ron Knight via Flickr
Rock pipit (Anthus petrosus)

Size: L: 15.5-17cm

Synonymous with the coast, these small, streaked brown/grey birds (with pale underside) are commonly seen flitting from rock to rock with a swift undulating flight. They have a light peeping call and can be seen perching around harbour walls -they are often quite plucky and approachable.

Rock Pipit by Steve Herring via Flickr

Useful books and equipment:

Seabirds: The New Identification Guide
Hardback | June 2021

Lavishly illustrated with 239 full-colour plates, this is the first comprehensive guide since Harrison’s 1983 opus, covering all known seabirds, beginning with seaducks and grebes and ending with cormorants and pelicans.

 

 

Flight Identification of European Seabirds
Paperback | July 2007

Containing over 650 colour photographs showing every seabird species likely to be encountered in European waters, this is an essential field guide for seawatching. Key features of each species are depicted in typical field conditions, with particular attention paid to shape and flight action, as well as plumage.

 

Conservation of Marine Birds
Paperback | July 2022

This is the first book to outline and synthesize the myriad of threats faced by one of the most imperilled groups of birds on earth. With more than half of all 346 seabirds worldwide experiencing population declines, this book will be an important resource for researchers and conservationists, as well as ecologists and students.

Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: An Identification Guide
Paperback | December 2021

This title offers the most up-to-date guide for gull identification in Europe and beyond. Using a direct and visual approach, this guide provides accounts of the 45 species of gulls found int he Western Palearctic, extensively represented in nearly 1,400 colour photographs.

Guide to Summer Coastal Birds
Unbound | July 2014

From cormorants to kittiwakes, and guillemots to gulls, this 8-panel laminated fold-out chart features 28 of the birds you can see around the coastline of the UK in the summer. Birds are shown in their adult summer (breeding) plumage.

 

 

Kite APC Binoculars 30

This powerful pair of image stabilising binoculars are great for use on moving boats or in unfavourable windy conditions.

 

Kite Ursus Binoculars

These easy-to-use, entry-level binoculars have a wide field of view which, combined with their image quality, makes them great for panning.

 

Opticron Explorer Compact Binoculars

These lightweight and compact binoculars are easy to transport and store, with a weatherproof design that makes them ideal for use in the field whatever the weather.

 

Swarovski CL Companion Binoculars with Wild Nature Case

These high-end binoculars offer outstanding optical performance in a compact and lightweight body. Their wide field of view is perfect for surveying large landscapes or fast-moving animals.

OP/TECH Bino/Cam Harness (Elastic)

This self-adjusting harness reduces pressure on the neck for prolonged binocular use. The unique loop attachment system enables the harness to quickly snap in place and the binoculars to slide along the strap for use.

 

 

Kowa TSN-500 Series Compact Spotting Scope

Durable, lightweight and with excellent image quality, this compact scope is ideal for beginners or experienced birders looking for a portable alternative.

 

Kowa TSN-883 Spotting Scope

This high-end spotting scope offers a luxury viewing experience, with dual focus engineering providing a smooth, easy operation. The unparalleled image quality assures that key identification features will be easy to pick out.  

 

Butterfly Conservation Moth Recorders’ Meeting 2021

On Saturday 30th January I attended the first online Moth Recorders’ Meeting of 2021, organised by Butterfly Conservation and chaired by Dr. Richard Fox. Although it was still a couple of months from the time when people would be putting their traps out in earnest for the spring/summer influx of species on the wing, there was a poignant and reflective look back on the strange year that had just been. It was also noted how, through national lockdowns and social distancing measures brought on by the global pandemic in 2020, there had been an indisputable increase in appreciation for the importance of moths and butterflies. It was mentioned that, at the time of the meeting, there had been 14 million impressions across social media platforms using the hashtag #mothsmatter and an insatiable appetite for the Butterfly Conservation hawk-moth identification sheets and for moth traps!

The impact of lockdown on moth recording

The first talk of the morning from Dr. Zoe Randle discussed the connection to wildlife that was kindling in our homes and gardens through 2020, and reported that there was, in the last year, a 62% increase in records submitted to Devon Moth Group, and a 72% increase in recorders! This speaks volumes about a growing awareness and appreciation for moths and provides vital data on the bigger picture of how our native species are faring. There is also evidence to suggest that 2020 was a boom year for the Jersey Tiger moth, with abundant national sightings indicating that the species could be expanding its range further north.

Inevitably, this influx of records requires consolidation by county moth recorders on local levels in order to feed them into the national dataset, and it was these hard working volunteers who were the focus of Zoe’s talk. Specifically she discussed the best ways to support them in their rolls and investigated the demographics of county moth recorders alongside details on the submission status at the time.

The demographics of moth recorders
The pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in submitted records and email correspondence

This need to streamline the information in support of county moth recorders was echoed and advanced by Dr. Katie Cruickshanks who was next to speak.

Katie spoke about the benefits of this widening pool of public participation suggesting that, not only does it expand our understanding of national biodiversity, but it also connects us meaningfully with wildlife and has positive effects on our own personal wellbeing. Public perception of moths and butterflies is improving through events like Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count, which encourages people to log the species they see in their local patch for a set period of time using a dedicated app. The wealth of sightings that come through apps like this and iRecord – alongside information gathered from social media and anecdotal sources – has meant that the recording process is a vast and time consuming activity for volunteers. Katie spoke on how this process currently works and speculated on how it might be streamlined moving forwards.

Data from citizen science projects and moth recording is vital for making conservation decisions, compiling atlases and for directing policy.

As a follow up to the publication of the Atlas of Britain & Ireland’s Larger Moths at the end of 2019, Dr. Richard Fox spoke next on the state of Britain’s larger moths.

The compilation of data for the new State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021 report was an ambitious project and took into account 50 years worth of accumulated information, providing a unique understanding of moth population trends. To date, it represents the longest-running standardised monitoring of insect populations anywhere in the world. The study divides data to create a more accurate picture of the abundance and distribution of larger moths across the country, and takes into account northern and southern records separately to build a stronger idea of where increases and declines in species numbers are occurring. Overall abundance of larger moths caught in traps over the 50 year survey period points to a concerning 33% decline across the country (with a southern decline of 39% and a northern decline of 22%). There is, however, evidence that moth species in the UK have increased their distribution by 9% over a 47 year period (1970-2016).

Changes in moth abundance over a period of 47 years

Dr. Fox also talked through the understanding we now have of distribution indicators for different habitats including woodland, grassland, moorland and heathland. These indicators suggest that “loss and deterioration of wildlife-rich habitats is probably still the main cause of population declines”.

Distribution indicators for several habitat types

There are, however, many nationwide projects working to correct for this and enrich habitats once again; such as the Highways England roadside verge scheme managed by Butterfly Conservation’s Dr. Phil Sterling, which is working to create improved grassland habitat corridors along roadsides.

Next came a passionate report on moth trapping through lockdown from Luke Phillips (Dorset RSPB). In this personal account of how national restrictions pushed him to connect more keenly with wildlife locally, Luke described some of the star species that visited his patch throughout the long spring and summer season of 2020, including a scarce Alder Kitten (Furcula bicuspis) and an unusual Birch Mocha variant (Cyclophora albipunctata).

Alder Kitten (Furcula bicuspis)
Birch Mocha (Cyclophora albipunctata)

Luke has been involved in a number of public engagement activities that encourage individuals and families to embrace the wildlife in their own spaces, including nationwide moth trap reveals and The Big September Sleepout, which sees hundreds of families across the country meeting to camp in wild places and witness the wildlife around them. In the last year these activities have still occurred, but with participants camping in their own gardens and spaces (in accordance with social distancing measures) and then convening virtually to discuss their findings. The uptake on these activities has been really encouraging and, besides the obvious benefits to wellbeing of connecting people and wildlife in these ways, these moth mornings and camp-outs also produce lots more data for Butterfly Conservation!

Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

The final speaker of the day was Dr. David Wagner, a systematist and lepidopterist from the University of Connecticut, who spoke about Insect Decline in the Anthropocene and How Moths are Faring. David discussed our current understanding of anthropogenic impacts on climate through habitat destruction and the intensification of agricultural practices around the world, and how their knock-on effects impact on parts of the tropics that are still feeling little to no direct harm from these practices. As a result of spreading drought conditions through the world’s grasslands and cloud bank diminishment in the tropics it is clear that insect abundance is in decline (although some species are faring better than others, and even increasing in numbers).

Signs of diminishing insect abundance
Cloud bank diminishment in the tropics over a period of 30 years

David pointed out that the most concerning thing is situations where there are declines in common/abundant species in parts of the world where there is little to no anthropogenic impact. This indicates a systemic problem that we can’t yet see. But in the unique case of the United Kingdom, where we have a vast archive of data collection and large levels of public involvement in monitoring, we can see more clearly the impacts of emerging anthropogenic factors, and this can inform our understanding to a certain degree. This depth of research has still not been realised in most parts of the world which means our global view of how insect populations at large are faring is incomplete.

Key points on insect decline
Global threats to insects

The morning wound up with an important message to anyone passionate about moth and insect conservation: keep working at collecting the data, keep submitting records, lend your voice as an ambassador for insect surveying where you can, and continue to learn and encourage learning.

An important checklist for anyone passionate about insect conservation

If you would like to get involved in future talks or events with Butterfly Conservation, you can find out more on their website.

NHBS In the Field – NHBS Moth Trap

The NHBS Moth Trap

This moth trap is the first to be designed by and built at NHBS. It is built on the Skinner trap principle of a bulb suspended above a box, with sloping flaps descending from two sides to funnel moths into the body of the trap. The trap is very lightweight and portable and has been tested and approved by Butterfly Conservation. One unique feature of this trap is that it is clad entirely in white nylon material which amplifies the light level emitted from the single 20W blacklight bulb included in the kit. The trap electrics are supported by a stainless steel frame that is attached to the container walls, and the trap comes with a 4.5m power lead with a standard UK plug. When fully assembled the trap measures approximately 30cm wide x 30cm deep x 50cm tall and weighs around 2kg; much lighter than the typical solid plastic assemblies of other Skinner traps.

The moth trap was tucked away in a sheltered corner of a town centre garden.
How we tested

I placed the trap in my small town centre garden for two nights in early July, checking first for favourable conditions (namely little to no chance of rain). Cloud cover can be good for moth catching, especially around a full moon. Moth species vary widely in their activity, some arriving at traps during dusk (such as crepuscular or day flyers) and some arriving well into the night. As such I put the trap out at around 9:30pm on both occasions while the day was fading and when the wind was low. I also made sure I wasn’t running the trap on two consecutive nights as I don’t have space to disperse trapped moths widely in the morning and I didn’t want to trap the same individuals two nights in a row. The trap was left on through the night in the corner of my garden, tucked out of view of my immediate neighbours, where it would also utilise the white walls of my house to maximise the light and landing space.

This Buff Ermine and Nut Tree Tussock were two of the moths trapped.
What we found

On both nights I found lots of moths inside the trap, as well as some specimens resting on the outside walls due to the white nylon coating; they remained there quite peacefully to ID. I also found that it was worth looking around the trap in the morning, as many species are attracted by the light and will land on nearby walls and foliage. The catch and retention rate seemed good for the conditions and I found this trap simple to run and fun to explore in the morning! The species found are listed below.

Species recorded

Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli)
Riband Wave (Idaea aversata)
Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)
Scorched Carpet (Ligdia adustata)
Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis)
Buff Ermine (Spilosoma lutea)
Triple-spotted Clay (Xestia ditrapezium)
Grass Veneer (Chrysoteuchia culmella)
Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)
Uncertain (actual name – not me being unsure! – Hoplodrina octogenaria)
Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella)
Mottled Rustic (Caradrina morpheus)
Dwarf Cream Wave (Idaea fuscovenosa)
Eudonia lacustrata
Scoparia Sp.
Caddis fly Sp.
Summer Chafer Beetle (Amphimallon solstitiale)

Our opinion
Grass Veneer

The NHBS moth trap is both lightweight and sturdy and is a breeze to set up. Simply attach the base to the walls of the trap using the Velcro strips, ensuring all of the velcro fixings are on the outside of the trap. Put some empty egg boxes inside the trap to give visiting moths some good nooks to safely rest in once inside (though some will just hang on the walls). Then slot the metal frames onto the lid of the box and rest the funnel slopes on them. The electrics slot into corresponding holes on either side of the metal frame. When disassembling the trap, always check around the framework for any hidden moths.

This is a great trap: competitively priced, bright, compact and neat and comes with a handy carry bag. It’s a perfect starting place if you’re just embarking on moth trapping for the first time and also great if you are travelling or plan to try trapping in a few places, as it really does pack down nicely.


The NHBS Moth Trap is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of moth traps, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on moth trapping or would like some advice on the trap for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Invertebrate Survey: Moth Trapping

Many of us delight at butterflies visiting the flowers in our gardens, be it the drunken admirals of autumn or the spritely orange-tips in spring, yet some of us still seem to shudder at the thought of dingy moths bothering our windows at night or worse still munching our clothes to dust in our cupboards. In the middle of June, armed with two moth traps and a couple of trusted field guides, I attended an open garden in Somerset ready to join the #Mothsmatter conversation initiated by Butterfly Conservation to dispel the moth myths and encourage a fascination for these insects.

All the essentials for cataloguing a moth catch!

Setting up a Skinner moth trap in a covered porch over a couple of cold nights, I wasn’t entirely sure what species would be flying, but sure enough in the morning as I lifted the lid and slid the egg boxes out, there were some delightful species to see. Visitors in the garden were suffice to say, in awe of the moths the light brought in; the Poplar Hawk-moth and the Eyed Hawk- moth, the Fox Moth with his rabbit ear antennae and the remarkable Buff-tip.

We are becoming well aware that UK moths are in decline with an overall decrease in numbers by 28% since 1968, and over 60 species becoming extinct in the 20th century. Moths are a key indicator of environmental health and, as vital as they are to other creatures as a food source (their declines are impacting on breeding birds and bats) they are also vital for the pollination of native flora, an essential element to the tapestry of wild life. There is also evidence to suggest that climate change is shifting the habitable ranges of many of the moths that call the UK home, and while this can produce some spectacular species visiting from continental Europe, many of the species that have relied on the temperate climate in the UK are being forced out northward.

With a recent trend in wildlife gardening and more strict rules on chemicals used in agriculture, there is hope however that we can retain and rebuild some of the moth populations that are so vital in our countryside. Butterfly Conservation have a wealth of information available on their website about the trends of moth populations and, very importantly, what you can do to take action, join the conversation and promote moths at https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter

If you are interested in learning about which moth species are visiting your garden or local wild places, light trapping is simple and loads of fun. At NHBS we supply a range of moth traps suited for a number of habitats and a wide selection of amazing field guides to aid in identifying the moths you find. Below we have listed some of our favourite traps and provided a little more information on the differences between them, however if you wish to see our full selection of moth traps please visit our website.

Robinson Moth Traps

These large traps are renowned among lepidopterists because they offer the highest attraction and retention rates available. These traps are fitted with either mercury vapour or actinic electrics. Mercury vapour bulbs offer greater brightness than actinic bulbs and consequently they will often attract more moths. However actinic electrics may be favourable in areas where the brighter bulbs may cause disturbance; they also run cold and do not need to be shielded from rain, unlike mercury bulbs which are likely to shatter when used without a rain guard.

Skinner Moth Traps

These traps are precursors to the Robinson, and as well as being a more economic choice, they allow the catch to be accessed while the trap is running. They feature a plastic or wooden box with a light fitted to a cross member above a long slit through which moths fall and become trapped. A highlight of this box are the transparent panels that make up the trap lid. These can be removed to access the catch while the trap is running, which is great for real-time surveys and demonstrations. These traps can be easily collapsed down for easy storage and transport.

Compact 20W Skinner Moth Trap (240V)

* Price: £179.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 32 (h) x 35 (w) x 35 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Alternative battery-operated units also available.

 

 

Heath Moth Traps

These traps are favoured for their lower cost and compact design which makes them highly portable (excellent for use in remote areas) and easy to store; some are even small enough to fit into a rucksack. They are usually battery powered and feature a low wattage light source of between 6 and 20 Watts (however some mains operated traps can reach 40 Watts), and consequently these traps have lower catch sizes and retention rates than Skinner or Robinson models.

Compact 20W Actinic Heath Moth Trap (240V)

 

* Price: £149.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 47 (h) x 25 (w) x 25 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available as a battery-operated unit.

 

 

Suggested books on Moths


Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Paperback | Nov 2018| £27.99 £34.99
A comprehensive guide with full colour illustrations and up-to-date information on the taxonomy, ecology and distributions of the UK’s macro-moths.

 


Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paperback | Oct 2018| £13.99 £16.99
This compact guide features full colour illustrations and concise descriptions for almost all British and Irish species of macro-moths

 

Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers | The Weird and Wonderful Names of Butterflies and Moths
Hardback | May 2019| £24.99 £29.99
A beautifully written book that seeks to explore the origins and meanings of the names of our butterflies and moths.

 

The Moth Snowstorm | Nature and Joy
Paperback | Apr 2016| £9.99
Drawing on a wealth of memorable experiences from a lifetime of watching and thinking about wildlife and natural landscapes Michael McCarthy presents a new way of looking at the world around us.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.