Thursday, 9 January 2014

A V-shaped hole in my moth world

The latest issue of Atropos has just arrived (click here to find out more about this wonderful journal). One of the articles inside looks at the 'Top Ten most endangered moths in Britain'. They are: New Forest Burnet, Betony Case-bearer, Syncopacma albipalpella, Scythris siccella, Sussex Emerald, V-Moth, Speckled Footman, Stout Dart, Marsh Moth and Reddish Buff. I have seen but one of these - Sussex Emerald. However, to me, one of these species has an air of sadness about it, a shadow from the past that still sends out messages. I'd better explain.

When I began to take moths seriously (1986), not only did I buy a moth trap and the newly published Skinner moth guide, I also obtained a report on the Butterflies and Moths of North-eastern Surrey, published by the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society. It was a collation of all records up until the early 1970s. I used this as a guide as to what I might expect to discover in my garden, (which was then in Cheam). One of the species that I considered a 'shoe-in' was the V-Moth. It appeared to be regularly recorded from the suburban gardens of the area, so therefore I anticipated welcoming it in the not too distant future. It didn't come in that first year of recording.

I moved to Banstead in 1987, an area of mature 1930s gardens. But still the V-moth didn't appear. I didn't fret - after all, this moth was surely in the area and one would fly my way all in good time. In 1997, The Larger Moths of Surrey was published by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. In it, Graham Collins described the V-Moth as 'a fairly widely distributed species that would appear to have declined in frequency in recent years, possibly as a result of pesticide spraying in gardens or the decline in popularity of its foodplants (currant)'. So, I had hard evidence that the species wasn't as numerous as it once was, but still I assumed that I would record it. After all, in the book the Surrey distribution map for this species showed that between 1976 - 1996 it had been recorded in thirty-five 2km square tetrads.

When the Provisional Atlas of the UK's Larger Moths appeared in 2011 was the time that my faith in ever trapping this species evaporated. The map for V-Moth shows a mass of 'open circles,' which represents pre-2000 records. The number of 'solid circles' - showing where post-2000 records have been made - are very few indeed, particularly for London and south-east England. It is slowly, but surely contracting its range.

This latest update from Atropos suggests that analysis of the Rothamsted light-trap network has highlighted a decline of 99% over a forty year period (1968 - 2007). The author (Mark Parsons), is at a loss to give hard reasons behind such a decline, although a reduction in the growing of Black Currants, Red Currants and Gooseberries in gardens and allotments, the grubbing out of older bushes and an increase in the use of pesticides are the most likely causes.

I'd like to illustrate this post with a photograph of a V-Moth, but I can't. You see, I'm still waiting for one...


  1. Not got that shape either along with many other shapes. Luckily enough, there is plenty out there to keep us amused meanwhile.