Whilst most of us are tucked up in our beds at night, our gardens and green spaces come alive with buzzing wings as moths visit flowers such as honeysuckle and jasmine. In the UK there are around 2,500 different species and they do suffer from bad publicity- many people think the only thing they do is eat our clothes (only a couple of species do!) and annoy us by flying into the bathroom when we leave the light on.
But moths are so much more- they are vital pollinators of our fruit and vegetables and a major part of the ecosystem- the broods of many species of songbird, especially tits, are raised on their caterpillars. The adult moths make up most of the diet of bats too, and will help to feed swallows, swifts and house martins. Not all moths are nocturnal- some like the cinnabar, mother-of-pearl or small magpie can be seen in flowery places, feeding by day.
Here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen, we set moth traps overnight roughly once per week during peak moth season (Spring and Summer) and less frequently in autumn and winter. It’s a humane trap which doesn’t hurt the moths- they are attracted to a bright light in the middle of the trap, and then most of them end up flying through a gap in the bottom. Once they’re in here they find an assortment of egg boxes which they like the texture of and settle down on. Then, in the morning, we open the trap and count what we have. Keeping a tally helps us to monitor how well the reserve is doing in helping both common and rare species.
As I write this, we set a trap last night and were pleased to find a couple of Fen wainscot, a species which we often catch here because the caterpillars feed inside the stems of common reed. In all we caught over 300 moths of roughly 60 species, including some with beautiful names such as Rosy rustic, Beautiful hook-tip, Scalloped oak and Frosted orange. At events like our Big Wild Sleepout (20th – 21st August this year) we tend to set a trap or two so that families can enjoy watching us open it up and get up close to moths – something that isn’t normally possible in our day-to-day lives.
Whilst you can buy dedicated traps to set in your garden, it can be surprisingly easy to see moths in your garden or local area- if you go for a walk at dusk, when most moths are waking up, you can often see them feeding at popular flowers like honeysuckle in the summer or autumn in the winter. If you have salvias, campion, lavender or buddleia growing in your garden it’s worth checking these too.
Butterfly Conservation (this charity also works to help moths as well as butterflies) have a great ‘Identify a Moth’ search facility on their website if you find a moth that you would like to identify: https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/identify-a-moth. Or, you can always give us a call on 01842 863400 or send us a photo at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to help.
Our photo above, taken by myself, shows an Elephant hawkmoth with a Poplar grey for company.
With best wishes for the month ahead, Heidi Jones (Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen).
Events at RSPB Lakenheath Fen – July-September 2022
Places for all events need to be booked online- please visit events.rspb.org.uk/lakenheathfen to read more and book tickets.
Price: Adults £5 (RSPB members) or £7 (non-RSPB members). Children (10+ years) go free!
Monthly guided walk – 11am-1pm, usually the first Friday in each month;
5 August, 2 September.
Monthly guided walk with a member of the reserve team, taking in current highlights.
Treasures of the Moth Trap
Adults: £3 (non-RSPB members), £2 (RSPB members)
Children (under 16’s) go free! 28 July, 25 August, 29 September, 27 October (10-11am)
Monthly moth-trap opening at the Visitor Centre.
Beginner’s Photography Workshop
Join our Site Manager Dave on a day course where he will take you through the features of your digital SLR camera, and then lead a walk afterwards to practice new skills. 17 July (10am-4pm).
Price: Adults £40, Under 18’s £20 (RSPB members), Adults £50, Under 18’s £25 (non-RSPB members).
Big Wild Sleepout 2022
A family-friendly night spent camping under the stars, with a campfire, guided walks and children’s activities on offer!
20 – 21 August (1pm-1pm)
Price: Adults £20, Under 18’s £10 (RSPB members), Adults £25, Under 18’s £12.50 (non-RSPB members).
Race for Wildlife 2022
Our annual 5km or 10km race, following routes across a variety of habitats, suitable for all abilities. Profits from ticket sales help wildlife and there’s homemade cakes at the end!
16 October (11am-2pm)
Price: Adults £15, Under 16’s £7.50.