Thursday, 21 September 2006

Celebrating Norfolk's moths

There is something deeply rewarding about running a moth trap. The sense of anticipation that grips me each morning, as I come to empty the trap of its nocturnal visitors, reminds me of being a child on Christmas Day, eager to open presents waiting under the tree. Perhaps, in some way, catching moths rekindles the ancient instincts of Man the hunter. More likely though, it reflects a need to discover, identify and “collect” (in this case photograph).

Running a moth trap requires little effort on my part. The trap itself is a wooden box, partly covered with two perspex sheets, above which a bright mercury vapour bulb is placed. Set at dusk, the trap does its work through the hours of dark, leaving me to rise at dawn and check the contents. Moths are attracted by the light and, flying into the bulb, drop into the box below. Here they seek shelter amid the pile of old egg boxes, remaining dormant until my arrival. Unless you have ever seen a moth trap in operation, or rather the results of its work, you will have no idea of just how many beautiful and diverse moths there are in Britain, both in terms of species (about 30 for every species of butterfly) and number of individuals. Many of our moths are more beautiful in appearance than their diurnal cousins but because they are largely nocturnal, they are under-appreciated.

All that may change if, as seems likely, increasing numbers of people continue to take up moth trapping. This coming weekend sees an event that is sure to encourage more people to take up this fascinating hobby. Saturday 23rd is National Moth Night – a celebration of Britain’s moths and of moth recording in general. The organisers, Butterfly Conservation and the publishers of Atropos (a journal for moth enthusiasts), hope that people across the country will either visit planned moth events or set up their own simple moth trap (a bright light shone on a white sheet). The timing of National Moth Night differs from year to year, to vary the range of species encountered – moths have defined periods when they are on the wing. While September may not be the best month for catching large numbers of moths, it offers some rather colourful species, particularly migrants from across the channel. The results collected by participants are pooled into Britain’s largest survey of which species are flying and where, highlighting the conservation value of trapping.  Judging by the sorts of species being reported across Norfolk at the moment, it should prove to be a very interesting event. To get involved yourself, why not grab an old sheet, a bright torch and visit to find out more.

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