Moths of


The Highlights from Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher, county moth recorder and retired local GP and self aclaimed leafmining moth obsessive has dedicated his later life to understanding our moths.

In writing 'Highlights' he brings us an uptodate on 2020 through selected species; entertaining us with fascinating insights into the history of moth observation from Porritt onwards. Full of fascinating background on the wonderful world of moths Charlie engages you with every sentance. He philosophises on what could be happening and why in a rapidly changing (warming) world ... A really good read!!

28. Devon Carpet

Devon Carpet has a very fragmented distribution in Europe, though its range extends right across Asia to Japan. Some of its isolated European populations are under threat and there are conservation concerns. In the UK, as the name might suggest, it has always been a moth of the south and west. Its scientific name, otregiata, actually refers to Ottery St Mary in Devon, the type locality. Its stronghold has always been Devon, Cornwall, and most of south and west Wales, where it has been happily going about its business in damp woodland for a long time.

Around the turn of the century something happened and it developed the urge to wander. It didn’t just inch forward gradually; instead, it must have perused the travel brochures and decided that the rest of the country was ripe for exploration. It moved rapidly into the Midlands, Lancashire and Cumbria. It moved east and was seen as far as Suffolk in 2007, a huge leap. Yorkshire had its first record in 2009, and by 2013 it had reached the south-west of Scotland. It’s the sort of spread from the south-west that we have seen for Beautiful Snout, Red-necked Footman and one or two others, but more rapid.

Our first record in 2009 wasn’t in the south west of the county, but was in VC62 at Kilburn. The following year it was at Hardcastle Crags in the west of VC63 where by 2011 catches of up to 30 were being seen at light. By 2014 it had reached North Cliffe Wood in VC61 and by 2016 it was in the south west of VC64. It has been seen on the VC65 boundary near Ripon but has not yet crossed the river. The current distribution is in a band across the centre of the county as far as the east of VC62 where catches have sometimes been into double figures in the last two years. Despite all this, it is still a local moth with a widely scattered population. The biggest number of records was 13 in 2019 and there were just eight in 2020, so it’s not turning up everywhere and remains rather elusive.

This is typically a moth of damp open woodland where the larvae feed on marsh bedstraw or fen bedstraw, and this is certainly where the biggest numbers occur, though I’ve seen it a few times now in various habitats including gardens. It is bivoltine with records in May/June and August/September. A first brood moth could be confused with Water Carpet which is larger, shinier, and has a different shape to the outer edge of the dark cross band. The moth itself is a different shape and always seems to me to have its wings spread out further making it into a triangle with a wider base. I’ve also seen it confused with Small Phoenix which has rather similar markings and is the same size and shape. Every year we get records of “Water Carpet” in August. This isn’t meant to have a second brood but once in a blue moon this is actually correct, and in 2017 we even had a Water Carpet on 14th October, but more often they are actually Devon Carpet. Often there is no photo so we simply don’t know.

Is this just climatic change causing the movement? If so, why does it happen so rapidly? Why are similar changes not being seen in the rest of Europe? Are genetic factors involved enabling it to adapt to different environments? Has it adapted to feed on different Galium species? Has it found some new defences against predators? It all makes little sense to me. There has been a series of invaders from the south-west in recent years. Which one is going to be next?

27. Kent Black Arches

What on earth has happened to Kent Black Arches. It’s another relative newcomer to the country, being first found in 1859, and it’s been spreading all over Europe. I’ve been reading the Atlas. It sounds so rosy it is worth quoting in full. “Formerly found mainly in south coast counties of England, this species has spread rapidly northwards and inland. Its recent distribution trend shows a large increase and the moth now occurs more widely in southern England and north, along the coast, to south-east Yorkshire”. OK great. So, it’s another moth that’s invading and we’re soon going to see it everywhere.

The first Yorkshire record was as long ago as 1973 when a wandering moth was trapped at Muston. We had to wait until the 1990s for any more records, at Spurn, Rudston and Bridlington, but it was 2002 when the invasion started properly and a colony was established at Spurn. We have had records every year since. Over the next few years, the Spurn colony grew rapidly and moths were seen up the coast as far as Hunmanby Gap. It became regular at North Ferriby and in 2017 even ventured across the VC63 border to Blacktoft Sands. So far so good.

But looking at records per year, 2012 was the high point with 41 records of 69 moths. Ignoring 2013 which is a statistical aberration as there was virtually no trapping at Spurn, the numbers have slowly and steadily fallen. In 2019 there were just ten records of ten moths. In 2020, just eight records of eight moths. The only encouraging signs were single moths at new sites at Hollym Carrs and Kilnwick. What has happened. Why would a rapidly expanding moth go into steady decline over just a few years? It doesn’t look like the sort of cyclical boom and bust you get with specific parasitoids. Global warming hasn’t suddenly gone into reverse. The Field Guide implies it isn’t too fussy with its diet and will eat “dewberry, bramble, raspberry and wild strawberry”, though Skinner simply says “dewberry”. Is dewberry declining in VC61? Again there are so many questions!

26: Fen Square Spot

Do you believe in Fen Square-spot? I do. At least I think I do, as do most people in Yorkshire if you look at the Atlas. Not everyone would agree and the Atlas shows dots in very few other parts of the country but it does suggest it occurs in Wales and East Anglia.

It was only proposed as a distinct species in 1950 by Cockayne so in Porritt’s time it didn’t officially exist. He does however describe “two very fine and striking yellow forms … regularly at Askham Bogs” found by Samuel Walker, which he called flava and ochracea. These specimens still exist and look very like Fen Square-spot. Sutton and Beaumont felt sure that it was a good species and thought that it was probably under-recorded. Several sites were listed, mostly on lower ground in the centre and east of the county. Continental authors also largely seem to be happy with it as well, and Noctuidae Europaea points out the larger wingspan (32-35mm against 30-34mm for Small Square-spot), the more reddish or pale reddish colouration, the striking yellow forms as described by Walker, and the lighter hindwing. Apparently in Sweden the two species are both univoltine and tricky to separate, but interestingly it suggests that there are subtle differences in the genitalia. British literature says the genitalia are identical.

So, Fen Square-spot is a larger, paler version of Small Square-spot which flies from late June to early August, ie between the two broods of Small Square-spot. It comes out when the first brood of Small Square-spot is dying down and looking tatty, and finishes about the time that the second brood is coming out. This second brood is smaller and darker than the first brood so there is no problem distinguishing it. Another feature is that Fen Square-spot is said to come out (quite specifically!) between 00:30 and 2:00am according to Skinner. I believe this to be true, as once when trapping at Ashberry Pastures, we recorded a lot of moths and all retired to bed soon after midnight, leaving some of the traps running overnight. We did not record Fen Square-spot. Examining the traps the following morning revealed 17 Fen Square-spots, so they all certainly arrived after midnight.

It really is quite a different-looking moth when you see it. You think “what the heck is that” and then the penny drops. It has a soft almost pinkish tone to it at times. It certainly seems to be a lot commoner in upland areas and is much less common when you get down to below 100m. It also seems to like damper places. Numbers have shot up since 2015. I doubt this is due to a real increase in numbers and is more likely to be due to people being more aware of it and more willing to record it. This year we received 14 records of 27 moths from 12 sites, all in the northern half of the county. I am surprised we have never had any records from VC63 and would expect it to occur in the north-western parts of the vice-county.

The phenograms are for Fen Square-spot at the top and Small Square-spot at the bottom.

25. L-Album Wainscott

L-album Wainscot doesn’t have a very exciting map I’m afraid but it’s a case of “watch this space”. It is yet another recent colonist. The first records of migrant moths were in 1901 and breeding was first proved in Devon and Cornwall in the 1930s. From there it spread along the south coast. The pace of expansion started to accelerate in about 1990 and it is now resident in all southern coastal counties, Essex, Suffolk and south Wales. Records elsewhere are assumed to be migrants, and this was the case for our first record in 2010. The exciting news is that we had two further records at Spurn in 2020 on 22nd and 29th September. This is a bivoltine species so these are second brood moths which presumably hatched further south.

It is highly likely that at some stage in the next few years, this species will colonise the county, almost certainly starting at Spurn. Who knows, it could be sooner than we think. The Field Guide is quite dogmatic about where we will find it. “Rough grassland by the sea” is the only habitat. The larval foodplant is “marram grass” but “tall fescue has also been suggested” – a far more widespread grass of course.

It seems therefore that we’re not going to find it inland. But wait, is it a simple as that? Looking at the Atlas, there are recent records inland further south. OK some might be migrants, but there is a cluster in Northamptonshire which look like residents, not to mention a lot of dots in the London area and inland Hampshire. Noctuidae Europaeae says for food plants “the larvae feed on various soft, broad-bladed grasses eg Poa, Festuca, Dactylis etc.”. No mention of sticking to marram grass, in fact no mention of it at all. The distribution map shows it widespread over all European countries except for Scandinavia, with no bias for coastal sites. My French book which charmingly calls it “Le Crochet Blanc” (the white hook as opposed to our “white L”) says the same.

This is a moth about which we will hear more. Expect a march north and spread inland. You shouldn’t have any difficulty identifying it - it’s a Shoulder-striped Wainscot with attitude. By 2030 just perhaps you’ll have it in your garden!

24. Varied Coronet

Some moths like Small Ranunculus advance across the county at a great rate without a moment’s thought for what lurks round the corner. Others appear to plot their advance carefully, send out a few scouts for a recce, and inch forward gradually. Varied Coronet is most certainly in the latter category. This is another fairly recent colonist to the country, initially as a rare migrant and first recorded breeding in 1948 in Dover. It reached Lincolnshire in the 1970s and was first recorded in Yorkshire at Whitkirk (Leeds) in 1988. This was the only county record when Sutton and Beaumont was written in 1989. Numbers were very low over the next few years but by 2000 it had a foothold in the south of VCs 61, 62, 63 and 64. Since then it has built its numbers up and gradually inched north and west. There has been very little spread into the south-west of England or into Wales. It has instead concentrated on heading north on the east side of the country.

This is an antisocial moth which appears on its own in the moth trap. It seems to have few friends and it rather enjoys social distancing. The most ever caught in the county in one session is three. Numbers have increased considerably in the last two years and in 2020 there were 91 records of 92 moths from 51 sites. The slow march across the county continues and the map shows a lot of new sites at the periphery of its range forming a new frontier; Luddenden, Keighley, Otley. Knaresborough, Hutton Conyers, Helmsley and Skelton are all new sites to where it has advanced before calling a halt and planning next year’s campaign. We now have a VC65 record as is has advanced from Sharow, a mile away in VC64, to cross the border into my garden. This is despite the lack of Sweet Williams in my flower beds so it must have been a bit miffed when it arrived. If you haven’t recorded this moth, a good gambit is a trip to the garden centre when lockdown permits, to stock up on its favourite food plant. Take care not to confuse it with the rather similar Marbled Coronet, though this has become a much rarer moth in the county, in fact it is now so unusual that we need to see photographs of any possible Marbled Coronets you might catch

23. Small Brindled Beauty

A map with no red 2020 dots on it for a change.

Does Small Brindled Beauty still occur in Yorkshire? It is getting towards the right time of year to look for it. In Porritt’s day it was “tolerably common”. He found it on “the boles of oaks etc early in March” and listed localities all over the county. Records have been thin on the ground since then and Sutton and Beaumont listed very few recent records in 1989. Since then, records have come from Bubwith in 1991, Grosmont in 1992 and 1993, Low Bentham in 1998 and near Hawnby in 2009. There are known populations in north Lancashire and in Lincolnshire. On the map, records after 1950 are in black. The Atlas says that it has declined substantially in both distribution and numbers since 1970 across the country. This is a moth of mature oak woodland. It tends not to wander and it not a common visitor to gardens. It therefore has to be looked for. It flies from mid-February to mid-March at a time when few moth trappers venture out of their gardens. The flightless females can be found by searching near the base of oak trunks after dawn and are reasonably distinctive, though we would need to see a good clear photograph. The males come readily to light. This species is still highly likely to occur in the county. Some of the remoter unexplored oak woods of VC62 might be worth a look. It also could easily still occur at sites like Strensall Common, Skipwith Common and Askham Bog in the centre of the county. We’ve just got to look for it.

22. Small Ranunculus

Small Ranunculus has an interesting history in the UK. It was formerly resident in the south east of the country, along the south coast and into south Wales. In the 19th century larvae seemed to be a bit of a pest on cultivated lettuce. Towards the end of the century in went into decline and became much rarer. The last record was 1939. There was a gap of 58 years until two moths were found in Kent in 1997. Larvae were found the next year and colonisation of the London area was rapid over the next few years. The same situation happened in parts of Europe as it became common in some large cities in Denmark and Sweden such as Malmo and Copenhagen.

This species seems to have the ability to disperse long distances and rapidly form new colonies. In 2001 it appeared in Newport, Monmouthshire, and quickly became well established. In 2005 moths were found in the Merseyside area and again became established very quickly. Yorkshire was colonised in 2010 with single moths at Rotherham and Sprotbrough and although there were no records in 2011, it has occurred in varying numbers from 2012 onwards and this has been associated with a marked expansion of range. VC61 was colonised in 2014, VC64 in 2017 and VC62 in 2018. Range expansion is more impressive than the actual numbers of records which have not increased quite as much as I would have thought.

The situation has altered in 2020 and numbers of records have shot up. This has again been associated with a marked range expansion. Western expansion has given us records at Bradford, Bramley and Otley, and one at Coniston Cold is a bigger jump north-west. Of even more interest is a record at Middlesbrough. This is suggestive of one of its long-distance dispersals and it will be interesting to see if this is another successful colonist. Something certainly has been happening to this moth in 2020; one of our own Yorkshire moth’ers even found the first two moths for Ireland!

The current wave of moths does not appear to be decimating the lettuces in our gardens as they have a taste for the wild ones. Larvae are frequently found in Yorkshire on both prickly lettuce and great lettuce, and have apparently also been found on wall lettuce in other parts of the country. The food plants have increased in range in recent years and are both now common on Teesside. I would not be surprised if we see a new colony in the Teesside area and perhaps further north, where spread is likely to be coastal. I suspect there will be less spread to the north-west unless other food plants such as wall lettuce are utilised.

21: Small Egger

Small Eggar has a very fragmented distribution in England but things were different in the past. Porritt seemed to have little trouble finding it and in 1883 listed several sites in all five VCs, mostly in the centre and east of the county. In 1907 he just listed three localities, Everingham, Ingleby Greenhow and Thirsk where it appeared to be commonest. Perhaps the decline had already started by that time. Further north, there were records into Northumberland and Durham in the 19th century and Dunn & Parrack say the last record for the north-east of England was at Newham Bog in 1896 (incidentally the old Northumberland site for Dark Bordered Beauty) though the Northumberland Moths web site has records for 1899. Either way, it disappeared from localities to our north at an early stage.

Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 mentioned a severe decline across the whole country “over the last few years” and pointed out that the last stronghold in Yorkshire was “in the Pickering area”. The map in the new Atlas is interesting, showing how widespread it was in the past and showing the current fragmented populations in the south-west, Oxfordshire area, East Anglia, mid-Wales and south Cumbria, in addition to our own population.

e of the county

Adult Small Eggar is rarely seen, possibly because of the early flight time of January to March (Field Guide) or February to April (Atlas) at a time of year when most people tend to trap in their gardens rather than venture further afield. The only record on our database of an adult caught at light was one at Haxby in 2007, and I get the impression it is not a moth that wanders widely. It is usually recorded as larvae in webs in hedges – usually blackthorn or hawthorn, and there have been small numbers of records from the Malton and Pickering areas in recent years. The exact distribution has been quite uncertain – until now. Sam Newton has been doing some fantastic work in 2019 and 2020 surveying this area for larval nests and has discovered a huge number of locations. I’ve tried to show these on the map and if I’ve got it correct, the 2019 records are in red and the 2020 in blue. We can really see the proper distribution for the first time. You will notice that the records go up to the Derwent and don’t cross into VC61. This doesn’t mean that the river forms a boundary and that it doesn’t occur in VC61, rather that this area hasn’t yet been properly surveyed. I hope the study will continue this year and find more records in this direction.

Poor hedgerow management in the past might have contributed to the decline of this species, as cutting out of season from April to June damages the larval webs. It over-winters as a pupa near the ground but it could be affected as an egg if hedges are cut in February. I was surprised that managed hedges tended to do better than those left to grow unchecked and rarely cut. Sam has been able to draw some interesting conclusions and advice on hedgerow management.

I wonder if this is the full story. Does it occur outside the core area? Why does it just occur in this area? Where did the Haxby moth come from? It is quite a distance for it to fly from the core area and I strongly suspect it occurs a little further south. We have a 1950 record from Allerthorpe Common which of course is not far from where it was not uncommon at Everingham in Porritt’s day. It was caught by Denis Wade and I have the specimen in my collection. It is certainly well worth while keeping an eye open for larval webs from late April to early July in hedges anywhere on the east sid

20: Glaucous Shears

Is Glaucous Shears exclusively a moorland moth? Our Field Guide thinks so – “Habitat – moorland” it confidently states. Other literature agrees, though the Europeans take a slightly different tack, and Noctuidae Europaeae, tells us that throughout Europe it inhabits “humid, often swampy and marshy coniferous forests” with “massive” growth of bilberry. French literature also says bilberry is the food plant though our Field Guide plays down bilberry to a supporting role and says “bog-myrtle, meadowsweet, creeping willow, bilberry and heather”.

So, if it’s just a moorland moth, why do we get lowland records. There can only be three reasons.

1. Immigration. The Field Guide says “resident and suspected immigrant”. I’m not quite sure what the evidence for immigration is. OK, it turned up at Spurn in 2010 and 2018 but if you look at the Atlas and go clockwise around the coast from Spurn, you get all the way to Devon before there is a dot on the map. The only inland post-2000 dot in the south-east half of England is in south Cambridgeshire. If it is a migrant, why are there no records on the coast? Where does it migrate from? European literature doesn’t seem to mention its migrant status. The Atlas suggests it might be an immigrant on Orkney. Why just there? I would have thought that immigration was not a common reason for out-of-area records.

2. A tendency to wander. Some upland moths quite commonly seem to wander to lowland habitats. For example Haworth’s Minor and Heath Rustic. In my own garden I have trapped Glaucous Shears on three occasions in 20 years, usually after westerly winds, and I am seven miles as the moth flies from suitable habitat. Other sites closer to the moors have trapped it a little more often. So, although it does wander, I am not convinced it wanders large distances. I would be surprised if it wandered 20 miles on a warm windy night.

3. It is not just simply a moorland moth and exists at a low density on (for example) our lowland heaths. Lowland heaths are not mentioned when it comes to describing the habitat of this species. It doesn’t seem to utilise them in other parts of its range, for example it is absent from heaths in Dorset and Hampshire. There are however hints in some Yorkshire accounts. It was a common moth in Porritt’s day and he listed a lot of sites, almost all in upland areas of the county, however one site on his list was Skipwith Common and we also know that Prest found it in 1883 at Askham Bog. In 1907 Porritt wrote that it “occurs more or less commonly on probably all extensive heaths and moorlands throughout the county”. Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 said “probably locally common in many of the moors in vice-counties 62-65, but also states “occasional in other habitats in all five vice-counties”. Since then, it has been seen at Skipwith rather vaguely “in the 1980s” and two records at Haxby in 2009 and 2019 raise the question as to whether these might be wanderers from an undiscovered population at Strensall Common which is a stone’s throw away.

2020 was a very good year for Glaucous shears in Yorkshire with 59 records of 175 moths from 34 sites, mostly in the usual upland areas in the west of the county and the east of VC62. There were big numbers on Keighley Moor with several counts into double figures, so the habitat here must be ideal. Of more interest however were six unusual records from lowland sites, at Owston, Wintersett and Austerfield in VC63 and at Askham Bog, Bishopthorpe and Ripon in VC64. The Ripon moth might have been a wanderer, but some of the others are just too far for wandering moths to travel on westerly winds. The Askham Bog record this year is interesting, and there is plenty of bog myrtle at this site. Perhaps it is resident there. Bishopthorpe is only a mile or so away so perhaps this was a moth wandering from the same site. Was the Austerfield moth a wanderer from Hatfield Moors? Was the Owston moth a wanderer from Thorne Moors? Where did the Wintersett moth (the second at this site) come from? As usual, the more one studies the records that come in each year, the more questions need to be answered.

19: Large Ranunculus

It is interesting to see that Large Ranunculus was “widely distributed and common” in Porritt’s time. He lists it from all his usual correspondents from sites spread across all five VCs and evidently had little difficulty in finding it. In Durham it occurred along the lower Tees and it was known from Bishop Auckland and Durham according to Robson in 1899. Our database is poor for records for many species from then until 1960, but it must have still been present, probably in lower numbers, as for several years – there were records from Northallerton, Elland and Wakefield in the 1940s and 50s. There were also records in Northumberland at Kielder 1969 and Rochester in 1979 indicating that the northern population was still extant in some areas, and one was taken at Middleton-in-Teesdale in 1974.

There was then an unexplained and very marked decline in the north of England and like so many species it largely retreated south to a line running from north Norfolk, the south-east Midland counties to south Wales. It did not completely leave Yorkshire however. In 1989 Sutton and Beaumont noted it was “now even more local than formerly and almost entirely restricted to the coast”, and this has been the case ever since. At Spurn, records in the 1970s and the early 2000s suggested that it was resident there, but there were few records in many other years and it was last seen at Spurn in 2014.

Some of these recent records may be wanderers from Lincolnshire and it is unlikely that it is currently resident. We do however have a proper stable relict population further up the coast. This is centred around Bridlington, Flamborough and up the coast to Scarborough. We get records from these sites most years. In 2009 we received two records from Pickering. These were accepted but there was always a slight question mark as they were out of area and there was no photo. This year however, we had three records of six moths from another site in Pickering which backs up the previous records and confirms that the range extends inland. Together with further records from Scarborough, Flamborough and Bridlington, it paints a slightly rosier picture.

Looking at the recent Atlas which of course documents records to the end of 2016, it implies that although numbers have reduced, there has been some range expansion, and looking at the periphery of its range, there is a hint that in some parts of the range, it is creeping forward. It might be a little early to get excited, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years’ time we are documenting a fresh invasion of the south and east of the county.

18: Grey Chi

Grey Chi was well known to Porritt. He describes it as “abundant in the West Riding and no doubt common everywhere”. He gave few specific locations so it must have been widespread. Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 described it as being “well scattered over the county but most frequent on higher ground” and listed several sites in each VC where it had been seen. It seems likely therefore that this has always been a moth which has been most common in upland grassland and moorland but also occurring in lowland areas at a lower density. Curiously there are virtually no records from our lowland heaths – just two old records from Skipwith Common.

The situation has been gradually changing over the last 30 years. Numbers in upland sites have reduced but lowland areas have been much more badly affected. I see that in 2012 I wrote on the Yorkshire Moths website “This is a moth of upland grassland but does occur in some lowland areas. Numbers have gradually reduced in recent years, particularly in the lowlands, and it has become rare in the south and east of VC63. It is rarely recorded in any more than ones and twos at light. This may be another example of a species retreating to the uplands because of climatic change.” I think that was a fair summing-up and since 2012 the change has continued. The Atlas says “it has decreased severely in abundance since 1970 and declined in distribution especially in the south of its range” and this is borne out by the distribution map. In my own garden where I started trapping in 1999, it was quite regular until 2005, but since then, I have just had single moths in 2011 and 2019. Catches of multiple moths is now more unusual. We have several records of catches of 5-8 at light on the database but none since 2003.

Apart from almost deserting the lowlands, there has been little alteration of the range. This seems to be another example of a moth moving to higher altitude. Looking at Yorkshire data in the 20 years up to 2017, the altitude of the average record has moved upwards 3.7m per year. Curiously this is identical to Gold Spangle.

In 2020 we received 21 records of 33 moths from 17 sites, all in typical areas in the west of the county and east of VC62, apart from a single lowland record at York. The only new 10K square record was at Richmond.

17: Webb's Wainscott

Webb’s Wainscot has a curious history of colonisation. It is another species relatively new to the UK and was first found in 1879 in Kent. It gradually spread along the coast, west and north, and since 2000, the pace has quickened with significant spread inland, with a lot of records in the south-eastern quarter of England. More than any other coloniser, it appears to have a tendency to send pioneers a long way to spy out the land. Moths arrived at Spurn in 2002 and one was found at Tynemouth in 2006. Invaders at Spurn evidently included at least one gravid female as a good colony was established with a lot of records over the next few years and counts of up to six at a time in 2003. This colony however gradually died out. There was only one record in 2008 and none in 2009, though there have been scattered records every 1-2 years since then. In 2013 and 2014 there were records on Teesside and it is possible that there was a temporary colony, though we have had none since. In 2016 we were surprised to receive a nice photograph on one trapped at Barnsley, our first inland record. The next three years brought just a single record from Spurn, but 2020 has been far more interesting. There was one record from Spurn but moths were trapped at two other locations, Hunmanby Gap in the north of VC61 and Rossington in the east of VC63. Presumably these were just wandering individuals but particularly the Rossington record hints that there might be colonisation happening or about to happen inland in the south east of the county, as the line of advance of settled colonists is heading in our direction.

This is a moth of wet areas. The larvae feed on bulrush (or do we still have to call it reed mace now, I can never remember), but also iris, common club-rush and branched bur-reed. The latter of course is *Sparganium *from which the moth itself (Globia sparganii) is named. It’s one of the few species that doesn’t feed as an adult, relying on the abundant fat reserves laid down as a larva, and has a reduced proboscis. You therefore won’t find it at sugar. Apparently, moorhens and coots are experts in finding thelarvae hiding within the leaves and stems, and are serious predators. Wainscots are tricky things to identify at times but this one is not too difficult. It flies in August and if you were careless you might confuse it with Bulrush Wainscot. The closest “look-alike” is apparently Rush Wainscot but this is a moth of the Norfolk Broads which hasn’t (yet!) been seen in Yorkshire. I reckon it has the potential to turn up almost anywhere in the county now, so do think of it when you find a “funny Wainscot” in August that you’re not sure about.

16: Tree-lichen Beauty

Tree-lichen Beauty has been expanding its range in Europe since the mid-19th century, or possibly even before that as records before 1850 are rudimentary. European literature said in 2009 that it had “now reached Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and southern England” where “the species might now be resident”. Indeed it was. Its situation in the UK changed from an extremely rare migrant in the 19th century to a regular migrant on the south coast by the 1990s. By the early 2000s it was breeding in the south-east and rapidly formed healthy populations in Kent, Essex, Surrey and the greater London area. The Atlas, looking at records to the end of 2016, showed records as far as north Norfolk and a line of advance advancing into Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, but still a long way short of Yorkshire.

In 2018, there were four records at Spurn and the following year this had increased to 11 records of 12 moths, with outlying records at Swinefleet (just into VC63), and up the coast at Flamborough. In 2020 we have had 15 records of 16 moths at Spurn and a single moth further north at North Frodingham. This species is evidently here to stay and there is no reason why its rapid increase will not continue. At this rate of increase it is very difficult to put a limit on its spread. This is another species to watch and see what happens. Will it contract back for a while or will it carry on expanding?

As its name helpfully suggests, it feeds on lichens on trees, so this is yet another example of a lichen-feeder doing well. Noctuidae Europaeae is a useful source of information here. It implies the larvae aren’t too hard to find (September to June) and occur on “various unidentified lichens growing on the trunks and branches of both forest trees and fruit trees as well as wood lying on the ground, on wooden fences, walls and planks”. Even stone walls and concrete fences are said to be used. It suggests that although a wide range of trees are used, fruit trees, especially cherry and plum are favourites, but also apple, pear, poplar and oak. Interestingly they are said to be sometimes found “in numbers” on glue rings used for Winter Moth control. Right, I’m off to get some glue rings for the fruit trees. I don’t care about the Winter Moths!

15: Anomalous

Anomalous was a rare moth in Porritt’s time. He noted “I have only seen one Yorkshire specimen; it was taken by JW Carter at Bradford on August 9th, 1877. He subsequently documented moths from Great Ayton in 1903, Ingleby Greenhow in 1900, and said it was taken “commonly near Saltaire”. By the time of Sutton and Beaumont (1989) it was “very local in the centre and east of the county and has recently become more frequent”. A slightly curious statement as records were from western areas and the north east. Since the turn of the century, we have had a steady trickle of records from western upland parts of the county and from the east of VC62, and seem to have healthy populations in these areas. Since 2010, VC62 records have spilled over into the very north of VC61 and it has become regular at Hunmanby Gap. The rogue dot in the south of VC63 is an odd record from Rotherham in 1976.

This is a moth of upland grassland and moorland where the larva feed on Deschampsia species, Tufted and Wavy Hair-grass. Tufted Hair-grass is common over much of the county but Wavy Hair-grass is much less common in the south-east of the county as it is more of an upland grass. I wonder if this is the main food plant as its distribution appears to mirror the distribution of the moth better. Moth'ers in Calderdale are particularly proficient in finding larvae and these have nearly all been on Wavy Hair-grass though there is one mention of Purple Moor-grass (Molinia)

There have been fairly small numbers of records in recent years but 2020 was far more interesting. We received 23 records from 16 sites which is a very healthy total. In addition to moths from the usual areas, there were two extremely unusual records. Firstly, a moth was caught at light at Kilnwick in the middle of VC61 on 6th August. This is almost 20 miles from the nearest record. Was this just a wandering moth? Does it really occur somewhere in the area? Is there some suitable habitat we are not aware of in the vicinity? It is not usually thought of as being a migrant so it is not likely to have come too far. Secondly another moth was caught at Haxby on 15th August. This site regularly attracts wandering moths from Strensall Common which is not too far away. In some parts of its range for example Dorset, it occurs on lowland heaths. Do we have an undiscovered population at Strensall or indeed on any of our other lowland heaths? Perhaps after all, it is an unknown migrant and this is analogous to the odd influx of Light Knot-grass to lowland areas in 2019.

The situation in Yorkshire shows stable numbers since at least as far back as 1995 so is at variance with comments in the recent Atlas which notes “Since 1970 it has undergone severe, ongoing decreases in abundance and distribution”. What is happening in Yorkshire? Wait for next year’s exciting episode.

14: Toadflax Brocade

Toadflax Brocade was first found in the UK in 1939. Breeding was proven on the south coast in 1952. Colonisation was slow but by 2000 it was found widely in the London area and numbers seemed to build up quickly. Over the next few years, it moved quite rapidly north and a wandering individual was seen at Spurn in 2007. The Atlas, looking at data up to the end of 2016, suggested it was resident in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and south-east Wales.

In 2020 the situation progressed further. On 21st May, single moths were trapped at Doncaster and at Rothwell, south-east of Leeds, suggesting a coordinated arrival. Four days later one was found at a second site in Doncaster, and here there was a further record in June. Two more records from the same site in August must be from a second brood and suggest that there was local breeding. This rapid expansion shows no sign of slowing down and it is highly likely that we will see more records in the coming years. Adult moths are unmistakable and there aren’t really any confusion species. The larvae are spectacular and easy to identify, so well worth searching for, especially in the south of the county.

A survey in 1999 found most larvae on purple toadflax, though they have been found on Common Toadflax and in fact on other Toadflax species at times. I don’t have any purple toadflax in my garden at the moment. That situation will be rectified this year!

13: Coronet

Porritt described Coronet as “local” at the end of the 19th century but was aware of records in all five VCs. The north-west of the county was probably the best area however and he found “larvae common on ash at Leyburn” in 1900. It seems to have hung on in upland parts of VC62 and on the Wolds in VC61 until the 1960s before becoming confined to ash woodland over a wide area in the western half of VC64 and 65 where the population has remained stable for many years.

In other parts of the country, it has a rather patchy distribution but in recent years has been moving into new areas. In the early 2000s, numbers gradually built up in counties to our south and east – Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Then in 2010 single moths were seen at Spurn on three occasions in July. Every year since we have had more records and it has been slowly and gradually extending its range north and west, on average about 5-10 miles per year, though a couple of years showed no increase. This year, numbers of the old native population are stable with 16 records of 18 moths from the usual areas, as far south-east as Burley-in-Wharfedale. Numbers of the new invaders have rocketed – 138 records of 208 moths is by far the most we have received.

The range has again inched forward a few miles and new sites on the frontier include the Lower Derwent Valley and Kirk Smeaton. The two populations are now about 25 miles apart at the nearest point. If the rate of advance continues at the same rate, the populations may well join up in about five years. It all rather reminds me of Vikings advancing into Anglo-Saxon territory, or have I been watching too much Vikings on Amazon Prime?This raises some interesting questions. What is going to happen when the populations meet, if indeed they do? The two populations have been reproductively isolated probably for over 100 years. Will there be genetic differences and what will their effect be? Will the invaders being new diseases or specific parasitoids that the native population will be unable to cope with, or will the opposite be true and the newcomers will succumb? Will interbreeding bring hybrid vigour so that the forces join up and invade new territories? Will the invaders adapt better or worse to ash woods in the Dales? What will be the effect of ash dieback on either population? Are the new invaders adapted to feeding on other trees rather than just ash? In parts of the country Coronet apparently uses alder and hazel. The only two larval records on our database are Porritt’s old record from Leyburn and one from Grass Wood many years ago, so are we correct in assuming that it just uses ash here? Will the two populations remain separate so we are left with “upland” Coronets and “lowland” coronets. So many questions!

12: Sycamore

It is not obvious how long Sycamore has been found in the county. There are one or two old records in the 1960s but they are thought to be unreliable. Some of the dates are rather vague – for example I have one record dated “1930-81” from the Malton area. None of these records are acceptable as it is an easy moth to misidentify – the confusion species being Poplar Grey - and there are no specimens or photos. It is a recent colonist to the UK and was first found in London in the late 19th century but was apparently rare until the 1950s when it started to move north and west. The first records that we can be sure about were in 1992 at Levisham and Strensall Common, followed by more records in VC62 and the east of VC61. As often happens these early pioneers disappeared; there were no more from VC62 and a fresh invasion started in the Spurn area in 1999. This was followed by colonisation of the south of VC63 in 2006. Numbers built up steadily until 2013 since when they have fluctuated quite a lot – presumably its parasitoids caught up with it. The range has been slowly expanding. One in Settle in 2011 was a wandering moth way out of area, but the core population has consolidated, particularly in VC63, and is doing well.

In 2020 there was evidence of a range expansion north-west with several new sites on the periphery of its range including a jump to near Skipton and to my garden in the south-east of VC65. So when interpreting the map, the north-eastern records in VC62 and the north of VC61 are the first wave of invasion in the 1990s, and the record in the west of VC64 is the early Settle wanderer. So ignoring these gives us a nice line of advance heading north west.

It seems that it can now be found almost anywhere in the centre, south and east of the county and it will be interesting to see whether its rather stop/start progress will continue. In 2020 we received 51 records of 52 moths from 32 sites, so all except one were of single moths. The maximum ever caught in one trapping session is four which makes me wonder if it more common than we think and just isn’t strongly attracted to light. Most of our records are from gardens and the main garden food plant is often horse chestnut rather than the usual sycamore or field maple. We commonly get records of the rather spectacular larva - 14 records on the database including two this year

11. Gold Spangle NB Red dots 2020. Black dots 2000 - 2019. Grey dots pre-2000

Gold Spangle was evidently not a common moth in Porritt’s day. He noted that it was much commoner in some neighbouring counties and “ought to be taken oftener in similar localities within our boundary”. He noted it from York, Pateley Bridge and at Doncaster (“very rare”). By the 1950s the situation had changed and there were records from far more sites. By the time of Sutton and Beaumont (1989) it was “widely distributed and locally common” and other comments noted “it may be expanding its range in Yorkshire. This fine moth is a distinctive feature of the northern fauna and until recently was almost unknown in southern England”. Rothamsted data showed a stable picture, and surprisingly still does. I say “surprisingly” because since the 1990s, records have gradually declined in Yorkshire. The chart shows by how much, though earlier years have fewer records and the data is more robust for dates after 2000.

The recent Atlas quotes the stable Rothamsted figures for abundance and charts a significant decline in distribution, but only 34% (1970 – 2016) or even less, 22% (2000 – 2016), in other words not much. It does point out some “range retraction at its southern edge in the English Midlands”. It all sounds fairly unremarkable. I think however that the situation is far more dramatic than this. It has completely disappeared from the south-east of England. In Yorkshire last year we did not have a single record from VC61, from the east of VC63 and from the usual sites in the middle of the county. In other words, it has almost completely deserted lowland areas. Looking at this further, our Yorkshire data show that the average altitude of all records has increased dramatically, and it has moved upwards by 3.7 metres per year in the 20 years from 1998 to 2017. Only Lunar Thorn, Autumn Green Carpet, Broom Moth, Pale Eggar and Red Sword-grass have moved upwards at a faster rate, a change most likely caused by warming temperatures.

In 2020 we received only 33 records of 36 moths from 24 sites, so virtually all records were of single moths. On the database, 82% of records are of single moths (suggesting perhaps that it might not come strongly to light), but even so, counts of five to 15 have been not particularly unusual, and at one site above Pateley Bridge in 2008, 40 were caught at light. Having said all that, I had two in my trap in 2020 and I’m at 35m above sea level, so perhaps all is not lost!

10. Beautiful Hook-tip

Beautiful Hook-tip was known to Porritt. He said “we have two localities for this peculiar lichen feeder” These were Scarborough and York and were the furthest north this species had been recorded in Britain. This is yet another moth which then retreated south to the Midlands and East Anglia where it lay in the doldrums for many years before deciding to venture slowly north about fifty years ago. A record at Tophill Low in 1997 was a taste of things to come and from 2007 it decided Yorkshire was the “place to be”, colonising VC62 in 2008 and the other three VCs in 2009. Since then, numbers have rocketed and we now have over 2000 records on the database. For the last three years I have been confidently predicting a slump in numbers as its parasitoids catch up with it, which just shows how much I know about moths, as records continue to climb.

This year we received an amazing 454 records of 898 moths from 123 sites spread all across the county with the exception of the north west where its preferred woodland habitat is not quite so plentiful, though I do expect a bit more movement in this direction. The number of red dots on the map this year is quite impressive and as you can see there are a lot of new sites. It is already becoming easy to forget how rare this moth used to be. Counts into double figures are now quite common, particularly in VC61, and the biggest total caught in one trapping session is 35. This species produces a small second brood in September and early October most years but curiously there wasn’t a single second-brood moth this year.

9. Black Arches

In Porritt’s time, Yorkshire was the northern limit for Black Arches. He described it as occurring at Barnsley, Doncaster, Riccall, Bishop Wood and in “old lists” at Sheffield. There are also some specimens in the Booth Museum at Brighton of adults bred from eggs taken near Middlesbrough in 1913, and this remains the most northerly record in the country. It then retreated southwards in the same pattern as Chocolate-tip to the Midlands and East Anglia, and evidence of spread to the north started about fifty years ago.

It reappeared in Yorkshire in 2004 when a moth was found at Bishop Burton in VC61. The next was not seen until 2014 but it has appeared every year since then in increasing numbers. One at Bilsdale in VC62 in 2015 was a major jump north, but as so often happens this appears to be a wandering potential coloniser and this species has done the usual trick of falling back and consolidating its presence in the south and south-east of the county. In 2020 there were a remarkable ten records from five sites.

There was a major jump to the west when one was caught near Hebden Bridge by a new moth trapper, operating her trap for the first time. This of course should really not be allowed! Most likely this was another wandering moth but there is now a population in Lancashire, not too far away. There were no more records from the east of VC61 which was a little surprising. Again, it will be fascinating to see what happens next. Further consolidation in the south-east of Yorkshire is likely, but will we see it colonising other areas in the next few years? The food plant is predominantly oak, so mature oak woodland is the preferred habitat, but it seems to be able to turn up in all sorts of places.

8. Beautiful Snout

Beautiful Snout is another of the small number of species which have invaded the county from the south-west. Numbers in England started to increase in the 1980s and there was a major movement into Lancashire and south Cumbria. It first appeared in the south-west of VC63 in 2001. Occasional records were seen in the west of the county until 2010, since when it has been seen ever year. The first VC64 record was in 2011 and it appeared in VC65 in 2015. In 2016 it made a big jump to VC62, and it is here that the population has built up as it has evidently found a lot of suitable habitat, especially in the east. Counts of up to ten at light are not uncommon.

The number of records fell slightly in 2020 but came from an impressive 17 sites of which eight were new, the majority being in VC62. It can now evidently be found anywhere in the west or north of the county.

It is a moth of open woodland with bilberry, but records spill out onto open moorland and it has a tendency to wander and to be found in sites with no obvious suitable habitat in the vicinity. It occasionally pops up in gardens. The Field Guide says that the food plant is bilberry but European literature suggests heather (Erica and Calluna) as common food plants and it has been found on heather in Ireland. I get the impression that it flies fairly early as I have found it dusking in upland open woodland. I think I was looking for Bilberry Pug at the time, and the two species have a lot of parallels with similar habitat requirements and similar recent expansion of range.

7. Chocolate-tip

This species was known to occur in Yorkshire in the 19th century. In 1842 Robert Cook mentioned finding it “within five or six miles of the city of York” and in 1870 William Prest wrote – “towards evening we began our return to old Ebor, and on the way found a few larvae of C. curtula and retusa (Small Chocolate-tip) in spun together aspen leaves”. As we already know that Prest found Small Chocolate-tip at Askham Bog, it is possible that this was the source of the Chocolate-tip. These two records were the only ones in Yorkshire for a long time as it retreated to the south east with its northern boundary on a rough line from Birmingham to north Norfolk, apart from a small population in Scotland. Since the turn of the century however, it has expanded its range and moved north. It appeared in the south of Yorkshire in 2009. Another was seen in 2013 and it has appeared every year since then in increasing numbers.

In 2020 there was a remarkable expansion of range and we now have a new frontier – Halifax and Keighley in the West, Brompton-by-Sawdon in VC62 in the north, Little Preston in VC64, and Wheldrake Ings to the south-east of York. A total of 17 sites in 2020 of which ten are new. Five records were of moths from a second brood. The big question is what will happen next. My guess is that the range will contract for the next two or three years, there will be a period of consolidation and “infilling”, then it will be on the march again. It is probably enjoying being free of its usual parasitoids but I’m sure they will catch up with it. Of course, I might be totally wrong and it might carry on expanding. Speculating about this sort of thing is what makes recording so interesting. Perhaps it will reappear at Askham Bog and then will have come full circle. My aspens are ready and waiting. There will be an MV trap underneath them this May.

6. V-moth

V-moth numbers underwent a catastrophic decline at about the turn of the century. It virtually disappeared from VC61 and 63 about 15 years ago and is now resident very locally in parts of the north of the county in small numbers. This has been mirrored nationally and it has disappeared from much of lowland England. Our outpost is nationally important. Numbers dropped to single records in 2008 and 2012 and have been low in other years, but in 2020 the situation altered. I hope I am not tempting fate when I suggest that things might be stabilising. At the main “epicentre” at Grewelthorpe there were 17 records of 26 moths; at two sites at each end of Pickering there were six records of eight moths and five of five; there were records near Ripon at Nosterfield NR and at Healey where it has been seen before, and there were moths from two new sites at Helmsley and Brompton-on-Swale. This is more sites than we have had for a long time.

Porritt said in the 1880s that it was “abundant in all gardens containing currant bushes” and field guides suggest that the recent decline is because gardeners use insecticides on their currants. Really? I certainly don’t and I lost my V-moths 15 years ago. Perhaps currants aren’t grown as much in gardens, but perhaps the more likely reason is that climatic change is playing a part. In Yorkshire over the last 20 years, the average altitude of records has increased by nearly two metres a year implying that warming temperatures might make living in the lowlands less easy.

The choice of food plant might not be as simple as it appears. The Geometrid Moths of Europe states that its main food plant is wild gooseberry though it will also utilise red and black currants. The Field Guide implies that red and black currant are the main food plants. All three species are neophytes in the UK with no records in the wild before 1600 which makes me wonder if we had V-moths here before that date. Wild gooseberry is widespread in Yorkshire, particularly in the north of the county, and it occurs in a lot of hedgerows in my area. I wonder if it is using this more than we think.

Books tell us this is a moth of gardens and allotments, which to a certain extent it is, but I get the impression from records in my area that it is a moth of open woodland, woodland edges and hedgerows. It over-winters as an egg on the food plant and perhaps over-enthusiastic hedgerow management might play a part. There is certainly much we don’t know about this enigmatic species. I hope that we manage to keep our population here.

5. Tawny Speckled Pug

Tawny Speckled Pug is one of the easiest Pugs to identify and is always a pleasure to find in the moth trap. It is however in trouble. It has been in decline for many years. For the very first time this year there were no records at all in VC64. There was only one site in VC63. The situation is mirrored to a certain extent nationally though I get the impression that it is not doing quite as badly in the south and east of the country. The chart shows what has happened in Yorkshire over the last 40 years, the y axis is the number of records per 10,000 records, so this year we had 32 records out of 212,000 ie 0.15 per 10,000. The VC63 site was responsible for 14 of these which actually makes it look artificially good.

It occurs in a variety of habitats and the main food plant is said to be yarrow, but I think it is commonest in calcareous herb-rich weedy areas. I think the most likely cause of the demise is our obsessive drive to "tidy up" our countryside, cut our road verges too early, build "affordable housing" on brownfield sites and plough up to the edges of our fields.

It's closest relative, Bordered Pug, another attractive and easily-recognised species, is in the same predicament. Larvae feed on Mugwort and Wormwood and it is even more a species of disturbed ground. Numbers are slowly dropping and insidious "tidying up" is again likely to be the reason.

4. Bilberry Pug

If you have the first edition of Waring and Townsend's Field Guide you will read that this Nationally Scarce B species apparently occurs at Strensall Common. This has been removed from subsequent editions as I collared Paul Waring and he has no idea where the record came from. Our first documented record was near Halifax in 2016 when one was bred from a larva on bilberry. It was subsequently found in VC64 near Fewston in 2017 and there were records in VC63 & 64 in 2019. In 2020 it was found near Otley and it has jumped to the east of VC62 with two records at the same site. It has also been found recently in Durham and the south of Northumberland. The Atlas says "the distribution trends for this species shows a steep long-term decline" which is rather at odds with what I am seeing. Has it been here all along? Is this a rapid wave of invasion? What is going on? It does come to light, but it isn't the sort of species you are going to get in your garden. The way to find it (and this worked for me!) is to look for a lightly wooded area with a good bilberry understorey. If there is a covering of Scots Pine then that is ideal. Go at dusk in the second half of June or the first half of July on a calm warm evening with a torch and net, and there is a high chance you will find it. It is almost certainly more widespread than the map suggests. It is a most attractive species when fresh and you're not going to mistake it for anything else. So in Spring when we're still under lockdown, use your daily exercise to identify some potential sites to target later in the year.

3. Maiden's Blush.

Maiden's Blush has a curious history in Yorkshire. It was known in Porritt's time from many sites across the county and he described it as "distributed but not very common". There were low numbers of records, usually less than one a year, until 2007, then numbers increased exponentially to a peak of 92 records in 2017. Since then there has been a plateau, and this year we received 82 records of 100 moths from 33 sites. Seven were from new 10K squares so there has been a lot of "filling in". The interesting thing is there has been very little expansion of range, though there was slight spread up the coast to Scarborough this year. The most north-westerly dot is my garden where I first had one back in 2004 when it was rare. I've since had singles in 2014 and 2020 but there has been no further extension of range to anywhere further north or west. It is an oak-feeder so really should be found in suitable oak woodland in the rest of the county. There is lots of good habitat up into VC62 which it really should be colonising. There have been a couple of records in Northumberland, most recently in 2017, and scattered records in Lancashire, but there doesn't appear to much of a resident population in those counties, and these might be just wanderers. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

2: Least Carpet

Least Carpet has had another good year. This illustrated a typical way that moths colonise the county. Many species have invaded us from the south east with very similar patterns to this. The typical scenario is illustrated well here.

  1. First arrives in the county at Spurn (2006)

  2. A gap of a few years then more records from Spurn and the occasional record further up the coast (2013). Starts to appear every year at Spurn.

  3. The first appearance in the south-east of VC63 (2017).

  4. A period of major expansion, in this case with records up to the north of VC62, into the west of VC63 in Calderdale and into VC64 in Wharfedale (2019).

  5. A period of contraction and consolidation, with "filling in" in VC61 (2020). This year it involved six different sites and four different 10K squares.

I would expect the next couple of years to show more consolidation in VC61 followed by a slower and steadier spread north and west.

The only probable second brood example we have had was the Calderdale moth on 27/9/19, but second broods are likely to become more common. This is of course all dependent upon weather patterns and may well be influenced by the presence or absence of its parasitoids which may well check the spread.

Many other species have shown variations of this pattern including Vine's Rustic, Scarce Footman, Pine Hawk-moth, Dingy Footman and the recent wave of Coronet. There are one or two species which look as if they are going to do the same in years to come for example Tree-lichen Beauty and Toadflax Brocade.

1: Privet Hawk-moth

A record number of Privet Hawk-moths this year. 80 records is double 2019 and is by far the most ever, with sightings as far as Leeds and York. Seven new 10K squares involved this year. Perhaps that privet hedge in the garden is a good idea after all. How long will it take to get into VC65?