The Oldie

I’m a devoted moth-er Caroline Moore

Caroline Moore, who’s recorded 850 moth species in her Sussex garden, sings the praises of her five favourite finds


My hobby (aka obsession) is ideally suited to my advancing years. At present, I am still able to birdwatch while I walk the dog, and to weed the garden; but when I am too doddery to do either, I will still be able to keep my log of the local moths.

The joy of moths lies not only in their underrated beauty and their incredible variety, but in the fact that if you possess a moth trap with a mercury vapour bulb, they will come to you.

Birds, you may claim, come to a bird table – but the numbers are simply not comparable. After a nice, muggy summer night, one can find hundreds of species, and easily a thousand individual moths, waiting in the trap in the morning.

I have so far recorded 850 species just in my own East Sussex garden, with an old Robinson trap on the terrace by my house. Some of them have been exciting finds – 65 of them are rare enough to qualify as Nationally Scarce, and eight are Red Data Book species. A couple have never before been found in Sussex.

We moth enthusiast­s, who send photograph­s and other data to our County Recorders, can claim to be an army of citizen scientists: our efforts are important because moths are an internatio­nally recognised marker for biodiversi­ty. They are particular­ly susceptibl­e to air and light pollution, and to agri-chemicals; so a healthy population of moths is a sign of the health of the countrysid­e.

And what beauties they are. Even the commonest can take one’s breath away: you might find the trap shimmering, for example, with ten or more elephant hawk moths. These have a wingspan of about two inches and are golden – olive-green – striped with shocking pink. Like those of all moths, their wings when fresh are feathered with fragile, glistening, light-diffractin­g scales.

Even the names of moths are intriguing – maiden’s blush, setaceous Hebrew character, angle shades, hoary footman, Jersey tiger, alder kitten, frosted orange, confused…

My trap is older than I am, and was

inherited from my grandfathe­r. It is one of the earliest commercial­ly available moth traps, bought from Watkins & Doncaster – a Victorian firm which is still selling equipment today. The Robinson moth trap is largely unchanged, though now made of plastic. It is still the best, both for the number of moths it attracts, and for the design, which lures them down a funnel into the drum beneath, preventing escape.

Egg boxes placed in the bottom of the trap give the moths a place to rest quietly, preserving the beauty of those fragile wings, until they are released unharmed in the morning.

The only downside is that the 125v mercury vapour bulb, emitting a spectrum of light that is especially attractive to moths, is bright enough to cause complaints if there are fussy neighbours close by. A trap with an actinic bulb, such as the cheaper Heath trap, may then be preferable – though the catch will be less,

and actinic bulbs cannot compete with other light sources in built-up areas.

In a good site, the chief difficulty a newcomer to moths will face will be the sheer numbers awaiting identifica­tion. There are over 2,500 species of moth in Britain – only two of which are likely, as larvae, to eat your cashmere cardigans.

Beginners should start with the larger species, and there is only one book I would recommend to help with identifica­tion – the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend, which shows the moths in their living, resting postures, rather than splayed out like dead specimens in a cabinet.

Do not be seduced into buying a photograph­ic identifica­tion guide; Richard Lewington’s life-size drawings brilliantl­y capture the quintessen­ce of the moth, subtly enhancing, without caricature, the crucial diagnostic features.

This book covers the 896 ‘macro’ species. If you find you need the companion guide to the micro-moths, by Sterling and Parsons, you will probably have become, like me, an addict.

My husband has already decided on my epitaph: ‘Caroline, Beloved Wife and Moth-er’. Lewington says his family have opted for ‘An Enthusiast­ic Bugger’.

‘Only two out of 2,500 species are likely to eat your cashmere cardigans’

 ??  ?? Caroline with her father, Ralph Baxter, identifyin­g moths in Kent, 1969
Caroline with her father, Ralph Baxter, identifyin­g moths in Kent, 1969

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