Old Ladies and Turnips – An Insight into UK Moths

In the March issue of our See Nature newsletter, Ambassador Meg Stone sheds some light on moth trapping and some of the beautiful moth species that can be found in the UK and West Yorkshire in particular. For more information on what wildlife you can find in Yorkshire, check out the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. If you want to learn more about moth conservation head to over to Butterfly Conservation.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘moths’? Brown, grey, dull, annoying maybe? Well, in this article I hope to open your mind and eyes to the 2,500 species of moths we have here in the UK. Yes, that’s a lot of moths, and most people have only seen a fraction of those species.

A yellow and brown moth facing the camera while perched on bright green foliageFirst of all, yes, some are brown, grey and, dare I say it, slightly dull-looking, but they all hold a purpose and have a place in ecosystems all over the world. There are many species though, that are incredibly colourful, large and just magnificent to look at. Now, let’s just clear up the ‘annoying’ characteristic that moths can often be tainted with. When you get small holes in your favourite garments, then, granted, that is very annoying, but there are only two out of the 2,500 species of moths in the UK that will eat and therefore cause damage to items made from natural fibres. So, can we give all the other moths a chance?

I started becoming fascinated by moths when I was gifted a moth trap in 2017. This was not a gift I had ever asked for and moth trapping wasn’t something I had ever even known about really. One of the first moths I caught in my moth trap was the Large Emerald (Geometra paipilionaria), which is shown in my photo below.  It’s probably no surprise that after seeing a moth of such stunning colour and impressive size in my moth trap, in our garden in West Yorkshire that I was absolutely obsessed…like a moth to a flame!

A bright green moth looking directly at the camera from a moth trapIt’s important to note here that moths are not killed or harmed by being in a moth trap. They are caught at night and released early the next morning after being identified, and, in my case, photographed many times.  Like bird ringing or small mammal trapping, moth trapping is a great way to collect data on the abundance and diversity of wildlife species.  Without moth trapping, we would not have a clue about which moths were declining and needed prioritising in terms of conservation action.   

Every time I set my moth trap out, I never know what I am going to find in there the next morning.  I might get a Common Swift, Turnip or even an Old Lady! As well as these being types of bird, vegetable and human, they are all common names of moths that I’ve caught in my garden. This is another reason why I adore moths, because their names just make them even more likeable and interesting.

If you are able to, I would strongly recommend purchasing a moth trap, or going to a local moth trap event, which are sometimes held in parks or on nature reserves.  You could even go out in your garden at night with a torch and check out the moths that pollinate your plants after the sun has set. That’s right, moths are vital pollinators that are often overlooked because they work the night shift.

If you’d like to see more of the moths that I have caught in my moth trap, feel free to check out my Instagram, @megs_moths.