by Darren Underwood
Citizen Science has a key role to play in understanding how species are doing and the ecology of an area. At our Foxearth Meadows Nature Reserve, all-round naturalist and moth buff Darren Underwood regularly supplies us with invaluable moth data.
Darren, we’re very grateful for your help and expertise. Could you tell us how you came by your interest and knowledge?
I’m interested in most aspects of natural history, but my interest in moths came through attending Friday night moth-trapping sessions with the Suffolk Moth Group. This led to me building my own garden moth trap and just carrying on from there.
Turning to moths, how do you obtain your data on the reserve?
The majority of my records come from moth trapping – I use a small homemade and portable trap which runs on a rechargeable battery power source. I have also carried out some daytime searches, used pheromone lures (for species such as Lunar Hornet Clearwing) and sugaring (a mixture of beer, brown sugar and treacle used to attract moths). The trap is where the majority of my records come from, but the other methods help to increase the range of species seen as some moths are not especially attracted to light.
Could you tell us in general about what you find on the reserve and any trends you are observing?
It’s early days yet (especially for trends), but the reserve has a nice range of species associated with fen and marshy habitats (which are, themselves, not that common in this part of the River Stour valley). The total number of species recorded in 2022 was decent, but still fairly modest (at 236 species), but I would expect a good list of species to accumulate over time.
Dotted Chestnut (Photo: Darren Underwood)
What are the highlights and star sightings from 2022?
There are a few species that stand out – I caught a Dotted Chestnut in February and a Dewick’s Plusia in August. Both were species I had seen previously, but never trapped myself. The former is an Essex Red Data Book Species (one of several recorded on the reserve during the year), whilst the latter was classed as a ‘rare migrant’, although it is now resident in the south-east of England and expanding its range. One of the best sightings, however, was of displaying male Ghost Moths (seen on several nights). Although classed as ‘common’ this is a declining species whose males hover over grass and other herbage in the late evening and display in ‘leks’; something I had not seen for several years.
Dewick’s Plusia (Photo: Darren Underwood)
Do you have causes for concern and equally any causes for hope regarding moth populations on the reserve and in the area?
As a general comment, moths are experiencing very mixed fortunes at present. Many species that were once considered common have suffered large declines (does anyone remember Garden Tigers around here?), whilst there are a number of species that have colonised (or re-colonised) the UK in recent years and are expanding their ranges. Trying to hold on to species in decline is one of the reasons why sites like the Foxearth Meadows are important, especially for species that have specific habitat requirements.
What part would the moth population play in the ecosystem of a place like Foxearth Meadows?
Moths are a hugely important part of ecosystems. Many are very active pollinators and/or key components in the food chain, be it the larvae of Winter Moths which so many bird species rely on as food for their young, or the myriad of adult moths that are predated by bats. They are often overshadowed by their day-flying cousins, the butterflies, despite there being many more species (and individual numbers) of moths present on any given site.
This article was written by Darren Underwood for the Spring 2023 Foxearth Meadows news and prayer letter.
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