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Moths are often neglected or ignored in favour of their cousins the butterflies when considering which insects we want to encourage into our gardens. However, with around 2,500 species in the UK, moths can be extremely diverse and interesting. Moths are hugely important for the food chain and can provide pollination services, but there is increasing evidence that Britain’s moths are in decline.
Elephant Hawk Moth
A good field guide will be needed to identify moths, but some are readily recognisable, such as brimstone moth, mother of pearl, flame shoulder, yellow-tail, ruby tiger and blood-vein. There is also a wealth of online identification assistance such as at the UKMoths website.
To observe some of the range of moths in your garden, suspend a bright light over a white sheet on a warm night from spring to autumn.
You can also submit records of species you have seen to Butterfly Conservation's Moths Count scheme to contribute to knowledge and conservation of moth species.
Long term data from the Rothamsted Insect Survey has shown that two thirds of British larger moth species have declined in abundance since the late 1960s, and around 62 species have gone extinct. This data was gathered using a network of light traps throughout the UK, one of which is operated at RHS Garden Wisley.
Declines have also been seen in Northern Europe and may be occurring in the rest of the world. It is thought that habitat loss or fragmentation is one of the main drivers of these declines, such as changes in farming practices and increasing urbanisation. Moths are considered good indicators of environmental and land-use change, and as such these trends in moth populations add to the concerns over general biodiversity declines.
Many gardens are already good habitats for moths. By planting night-flowering, nectar-rich plants, which have specifically evolved to attract nocturnal insects, more moths can be attracted to the garden. Lists of plants that can attract a wide range of pollinators can be found at RHS Plants for Pollinators.
The caterpillars of moths eat the foliage or other parts of plants. In gardens this can be to edible, ornamental plants or ‘weeds’. In many cases this damage consists of damage to leaves only and can be tolerated, as the damage often has a very limited effect plant vigour and appearance. Where possible the damage should be tolerated and growing healthy, large or more vigorous plants can make this more acceptable. If damage is considered unacceptable it may be due to only a few caterpillars, these can often be removed by hand, a night time search is more likely to reveal the culprits.
Many of the caterpillar pests are the larvae of moths, including; angle shades moth, codling moth, holm oak leaf-mining moths, horse chestnut leaf-mining moth, leek moth, pea moth, plum moth, winter moth and tortrix moths. Cabbage caterpillars may be those of moths or, more commonly, butterflies.
Amphibians: encouraging into your gardenBats: encouraging into your gardenBees: encouraging into your gardenBirds: encouraging into your gardenButterfly ConservationButterfly Conservation: How to start 'mothing' guideButterfly Conservation: 'The state of Britain's larger moths' ReportButterflies: encouraging into your gardenHow gardeners can help our declining bees and other pollinatorsNative or non-native: planting for pollinatorsPollinators: decline in numbersRHS Plants for Pollinator plant listsRHS Plants for Bugs research: pollinator findingsRHS Wisley RIS light trapWildflower meadow: establishment Wildlife: helping through winter
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