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!!

42: July Belle

I get lots of records of July Belle every year. The only problem is that when I ask for photo, they are usually something completely different. Brown Silver-line is a favourite. Shaded Broad-bar. Snout. Some even claim Lead Belle – but more of that later. In fact, there are few other moths that make me raise my eyebrows quite so much, apart from Bordered Straw (90% are Barred Straw) and Spinach (90% are anything but Spinach).

Porritt was well aware of this species and recorded it at several sites. “Not uncommon on heaths” he said in 1883. “Fairly common probably in all parts of the country” was his pronouncement in 1907. The only problem was that in 1941 it was decided that we had two species in the country and it was split into July Belle and Lead Belle. Rutherford in 1970 assumed that all of our moths were Lead Belle but Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 pointed out that the only confirmed records in the county were of July Belle and suggested that it was the “predominant, if not the only species present in Yorkshire”, and indeed all confirmed records since then have been of July Belle. The plot thickened a little when I was given an old moth collection which contained two specimens, taken by Jo Beanland on Baildon Moor in 1897. They looked odd to me for July Belle so I dissected one and it was Lead Belle, so it did once exist in Yorkshire. The question is, does it still exist? Two years ago I received a photograph of a “July Belle" from near Catterick and I would have put a fiver (a lot for me to bet) on Lead Belle by its appearance, but the moth was not retained. So, if you do catch this beast. Take a photo and keep the moth in the fridge until I’ve had the time to look at it.

Looking at the map, you could be forgiven for thinking that you might find this moth anywhere. The dots however are mostly from 1960 – 2000 and there is a preponderance of records from RIS traps. Are they all correct? I wouldn’t risk my fiver on that one. The only 2020 dot is from Strensall Common, where it was first seen in 2019. Recent records are thin on the ground and it appears to be very local. It can be strangely common however. We trap every year at the MOD site at Catterick – Foxglove Covert. We usually run several traps around the site. One year, a trap on a small area of heathland attracted 13 July Belles – the commonest moth in the trap! All the other traps attracted one between them, so it probably doesn’t stray far from its ideal habitat.

Both the “Belles” are gorse feeders and are moths of heaths and moors. “Warm heathland of the subatlantic type” says one book. Both are doing badly in the east of the country and have much bigger populations in the west – especially Wales and the counties surrounding Devon. The Field Guide says “identification problems bedevil the records of both Lead Belle and July Belle”. Quite right, and the Atlas even has a map for the “agg.” at the back. You should suspect Lead Belle if the black central spot is “tear-shaped” or “comma shaped” and is equidistant between the two cross lines, rather than a small dot closer to the proximal line. A pale wavy cross line at the edge of the wing may be present, and moths flying in May or the first half of June might also suggest this species. These would need dissection for confirmation. I think Lead Belle is a prettier-looking beast. I don’t think it’s lead-coloured at all, in fact our subspecies of July Belle is plumbaria which means lead-coloured. Confused? You should be.

41: Obscure Wainscot

What is happening to Obscure Wainscot? It’s another ditherer. It can’t make up its mind what it’s doing. It’s obviously friends with Pine Hawk-moth. Looking at the records/year graph, it looks like the Alps. I don’t like graphs like this. I like a moth that knows if it’s increasing or decreasing. If you try and put a trend line on this sort of data you are in danger of getting a sarcastic message from Excel along the lines of “are you sure you want to do this?” Looking at the Rothamsted web site they don’t comment on it. Perhaps the data froze their computer. The Atlas doesn’t try to tell us if the abundance is going up or down. I don’t blame it in the slightest. In Yorkshire, ten years ago, records had sunk so low it had almost disappeared, then it staged a major revival with good numbers in 2017/8/9. In 2020 it slumped dramatically. Interestingly, another reed-feeder, Silky Wainscot did the same in 2020 so I’ve included the chart for a bit of comparison.

The distribution maps are equally odd. It has increased in range – considerably, but on the other hand it has completely deserted East Anglia. It doesn’t like Lincolnshire either. What’s it all about? Do they have the wrong flavour reeds? There is certainly no lack of reeds in Norfolk so it isn’t loss of habitat. It’s so rare there now that they ask for a photo or specimen to back up any record.

It is a relatively new addition to the Yorkshire fauna. Porritt never saw a Yorkshire specimen. The first one was at Skipwith Common in 1957 where it became fairly common for the next few years. Thorne Moors had moths from 1962 and by 1970 there were records from Muston and a decent colony built up at Spurn.

Other sites followed, but Sutton and Beaumont’s comments that it was “very local in reed beds” in 1989 seems a good summary. A decline to no records at all in 2001 and 2002 was followed by an expansion of range and it reached my area in 2006 where it remained very local. It reached Teesside in 2011 and by 2019 it had been seen at lots of widespread sites in the centre and east of the county. It had even got to the south of Northumberland. But in 2020 in Yorkshire, there were a mere 16 records of 45 moths from 11 sites; a huge drop. Apart from 25 in one session at Skerne Wetlands, all the others were of very small numbers.

Obscure Wainscot is capable of appearing in large numbers when it wants to. Blacktoft Sands has regularly attracted counts of 20 to 40. We had never encountered it at Nosterfield NR until 1/7/15 when we put some traps in the reed bed there and caught 81: a total which has never been beaten in the county. There have only been small numbers since. It is meant to be a sedentary inhabitant of reed beds but it does turn up in odd places. I’ve had it in my garden in 2017 and 19 and have yet to plant my extensive reed bed!

So, what is the cause of this odd behaviour. It over-winters as a larva in stems of common reed. Do they manage reed beds differently in the Broads? The way it moves to a new area, rapidly builds up numbers, then falls of a cliff edge can’t be due to habitat or climatic change, so is it parasitoids at work? I get the impression that there is a lot that we don’t know about this species. Noctuidae Europaeae intriguingly says “at times may be common” which suggests to me that population fluctuations have been noticed elsewhere.

I would love to tell you that it’s scientific name obsoleta reflects its tendency to render itself obsolete at times, but I’m afraid it’s the same as the vernacular epithet, “obscure”, referring to its undeveloped markings. I find this one of the easier Wainscots to identify. It’s obviously different when you have one in the hand.

40: Yellow-ringed Carpet

There is generally a lot of focus on exciting new species moving north to colonise Yorkshire. We wax lyrical about climatic change and how we’re gaining a lot of new species. It’s easy to prove that a species is new to the county, but how do we tell when we have lost it? What are the negative effects of climate change? How many species have the southern part of their range in Yorkshire? Should we be worried about species which have a toe hold in our county but are common in Scotland? Of course we should. These species are part of our fauna and have been for a long time. There are quite a number of them. One such species is Yellow-ringed Carpet.

Porritt was aware of this species as he was sent a specimen from Malham Moor in 1876. He was also aware of “several specimens about Oughtershaw in upper Wharfedale, at an elevation of 1200 feet”. He even mentions an unconfirmed record at Hutton Buscel near Scarborough in 1891. This sounds a little dubious as its main food plant, Mossy Saxifrage, has never occurred in VC62.

We had a scattering of records in the middle of the last century from the Grass Wood/Bastow Wood/Dib Scar area and another one from Oughtershaw, but most of our records came from the Rothamsted trap run in upper Ribblesdale at Colt Park between 1990 and 93. This produced 13 records of single moths in its four years of operation. After that nothing was heard for a while and I see that I am quoted in Porritt’s Lists, published in 2011, as saying that our population might be extinct. Luckily, I was wrong, and Dib Scar produced more records in 2013 and 14, and the good news this year is that Paul Millard and Andrew Rhodes caught three there at actinic light in 2020. Another record reached us rather late – one from the Rothamsted trap at Malham Tarn in 2013, the first ever from this site. I haven’t had any records from them since 2015 so I don’t know if there are any more since then.

There are two subspecies. The paler flavicinctata occurs in western Scotland and the Inner Hebrides. The darker ruficinctata occurs in the rest of its range – central Scotland, Cumbria, Yorkshire, North Wales and the Black Mountains. The curious thing is that the north western flavicinctata is bivoltine whereas the others including our moths are univoltine, flying in July and August. With some species that is enough for people to query whether they are separate species, but I don’t think that has been suggested here. Take care not to confuse it with the rather similar Grey Mountain Carpet which however has no orange/yellowy scales.

I feel that it is highly likely that it occurs at other sites in the Dales and it really ought to occur in VC65. It isn’t the easiest thing to find. It appears to have a penchant for RIS traps and actinic traps, and we don’t have a single record at MV light, though I’m not suggesting it won’t come to MV light; it probably reflects the difficulty in lugging generators to remote places. It is said that it can be found resting on stones in the day time. Mossy Saxifrage, assumed (rightly?) to be its only food plant in Yorkshire, is actually not too rare in the Dales according to the on-line Plant Atlas. The south-eastern part of its range is lower Wharfedale apart from some at Greenhow, and it is most common in the limestone areas of Ribblesdale, Langstrothdale, Littondale, the Three Peaks area and a big chunk of land to the west of Hawes. A search for larvae may be one of the easiest ways to find it – we have larval records in May. In other parts of its range, it feeds on other Saxifraga sp. and even Sedum sp., so it’s not impossible it uses other food plants in Yorkshire. Now that Boris says we can all enjoy ourselves this summer, how about a holiday cottage in the limestone Dales in August and a hunt for Yellow-ringed Carpet?

39: Pine Hawk-moth

Pine Hawk-moth can’t quite decide what to do. It’s not sure whether it’s invading us or not. It’s a bit of a ditherer. It’s prone to make U-turns. It seems to wait and see what other moths are doing before it makes its mind up. Does it remind you of anyone? I understand the ICZN have had a meeting recently and they are going to change its scientific name to Sphinx borisii. Only kidding.

Early records of this species, once known by the rather splendid name of the Fir-tree Arrow-tailed-moth are controversial to say the least. Our new Atlas has a single old dot in Scotland, but there are in fact several unconfirmed old Scottish 19th century records. Old writers considered these to be errors or fraud. Many thought they were deliberate introductions or accidental on imported trees or aboard ships. Whether it was ever resident is a very debatable point and Stainton said in 1857 that it was “by many doubted as a British species”. Records kept on coming however, often on the east coast of England. We even had one in Yorkshire – Porritt writes ”Mr T Ashton Lofthouse informs me that a specimen was taken in a garden at Linthorpe, Middlesbrough in the summer of 1900. He has seen the specimen”. Sutton and Beaumont comment on this record that “it may well have come in by ship from the south of the country or the continent”.

In the late 19th century for a while, it was resident and locally common in Suffolk. Argument again raged as to whether it had been present all along or locally reared and released. Numbers however dwindled after 1907 and it virtually disappeared from Suffolk. There were also sightings in Dorset, mostly in the Poole area, and in the 1920s it became more common here. In the 1930s it finally decided it was time to seek pastures new, and the Dorset moths spread gradually north and east, so that by 1960, there were records in many areas to the south and east of a line drawn from Dorset to the Wash. So, it seems likely that all the current moths stem from Dorset stock. I wonder if this was genetic mutation enabling easier colonisation or whether climatic change was the reason. Curiously it has not managed to spread much further west, and some say the current maps reflect lower rainfall where the moth now occurs.

Progress was slow. Our first record was unsurprisingly at Spurn in 1992. There were no more until 1995 but since then we have had records every year. In 2005 there was a major push forward and there were three records in my area near Ripon. I looked forward to seeing it regularly but it contracted back. It moved forward again in 2010 but again contracted back to the south east of the county. Dithering yet again. Since another trough in 2017, records have increased substantially. In 2020 we had 63 records of 96 moths from 37 sites, 12 of them new locations. There is just the hint of some movement at the borders of the range. What will happen next? Is this a false dawn or the start of some further proper “Dorset style” movement Will we see a further U-turn or will we get a proper “road map” to enable proper colonisation of the county? What is the mothing equivalent of the 1922 committee urging it to do?

The food plant is of course Scots Pine, though it will occasionally use other conifers. It doesn’t need old gnarly ones, as it will also use younger trees. My own 30-year-old Scots Pines are ready and waiting but so far have had no visitors.

For those wanting to know more about the past history of this enigmatic species, there is a fabulous article by Colin Pratt written in 2002. Ent. Rec 114: 235-268.

38: Cloaked Pug

2020 was a fabulous year for Cloaked Pug. We had a whole three records! That might not sound a lot but it’s quite a significant number for this enigmatic species as previously we only had seven records. It was first found in the county in the 19th century. Porritt says “Mr J Sang of Darlington assures me that a specimen of this species was taken at Richmond”. The next one was not until 1966 when one came to MV light at Bradford. Rutherford writes “it must be presumed that it had been accidentally introduced into the area, possibly as a pupa” though Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 said “whether our recent record is from an as yet undiscovered colony or just a vagrant is uncertain, but it would certainly be worthwhile to search for this species in suitable Yorkshire woodlands”.

In the first edition of Skinner’s Guide in 1984, he suggested it was extinct as a breeding species and all recent records were migrants or on introduced spruce. This was the tone for quite a while, and it is possible that a lot of southern moths were in fact migrants, as a scatter of records on the south coast appear to coincide with arrivals of other migrants.

Scattered single moths kept turning up however. Terry Crawford had the next in 1988 at Acomb, Philip Winter the next in Langdale Forest in 1993, then Jill Warwick and I had one near Ripon in 2004. All at widely separated sites. I suspect that it has been here in Yorkshire all along. It certainly has in Northumberland where it was first found at Catcleugh in the 1930s and again in 1985 when it was bred out of spruce cones. Skinner also found it in Kyloe Woods, shortly after publishing his field guide which is a little ironic, and it has been seen at various sites since then north of our borders.

So, this isn’t a migrant up here, and I’m not at all convinced it has come in on imported spruce. It’s a native species which exists at a very low density and I suspect the moth doesn’t come readily to light. In 2020 as I have said, we had three records. Two from the east of VC62 including Newtondale where it had been seen in 2016, and an unusual record at Halifax – the nearest site to the old Bradford record. It’s a moth which needs mature Norway spruce as the larvae feed on the cones. It will occasionally feed on other conifers, and on the continent, this includes Scots pine, though not apparently here. It’s is certainly resident in the east of VC62 and probably elsewhere. The larvae feed on the ripe seeds between the cone scales according to the Field Guide, high on the tree, and giving rise to clumps of reddish-brown frass hanging from the cones, and you need mature trees with large cones.

When you see it, it’s a Pug on steroids. It’s a stonking great thing with a bold big discal spot. The markings are most like Dwarf Pug but you would need a serious loss of perspective if you confused them in the hand. To be honest, the one we saw looked so unlike a Pug that I took it home for a further look. I don’t think plantations of spruce are the right place to look for it unless they are really mature. I get the impression that you want old neglected ancient spruce. The place I found it, I seem to remember, just had a couple of big trees. I wonder if current forestry practices fell the trees before they are suitable for Cloaked Pug. It flies in June and July, so find some really mature neglected spruce this year and see if it’s in your area!

37: Fletcher's Pug

Well, I had to talk about Fletcher’s Pug didn’t I. Only one dot on the map, but it’s a red one. And it’s a good one.

Fletcher’s Pug has an interesting history. Heslop in 1947 included Eupithecia egenaria in the British list and called it Pauper Pug. These early records some dating from the 19th century were found to be misidentifications of Freyer’s Pug and Golden-rod Pug so it was removed from the list in 1952. Stephen Fletcher of the Natural History Museum (he of the Bradley and Fletcher list and nothing to do with me) had an inkling that the real egenaria might occur in England. On the continent it had a penchant for old lime woods so he thought that the Wye Valley might be a good place to look. He searched for it in 1961 and failed to find it. Robin Mere the following year went back and found it. He felt a bit sorry for poor old Steve who really should have found it first, and suggested the name Fletcher’s Pug. Mere got his reward later when the Irish subspecies of Freyer’s Pug became Mere’s Pug. The argument about what to call it has raged ever since.

According to Bernard Skinner, Bradley and Fletcher in a fit of modesty went with Heslop’s old name in their first checklist so he argued it should stay that way and decided to call it Pauper Pug in his identification guide – it has remained “Pauper Pug” in the later editions. Bradley however in 1989 insisted that the name should be Fletcher’s Pug and changed it in the logbook. His argument was that Pauper Pug was based on a misidentification and said “to me the appellation Pauper Pug is unuseful, the moth being no more pauperate than its congeners. On the other hand, the commemorative name Fletcher’s Pug has connotations of inspired field work and discovery”. In all lists since, both names have been used but Fletcher’s Pug has come first in all of them except Riley, and Skinner where it is still called simply Pauper Pug. You will not need to be told which side of the argument I fall on.

Following its original discovery, old specimens in collections were examined and a moth from Thetford in 1953 proved that it had occurred in the country before 1962. Since then, it has been found in a number of counties and was found in Lincolnshire in 1995. It has been seen in various sites in Nottinghamshire in recent years including Clumber Park. I have had my eyes on it for a while and included it in the 2017 report under “moths to look out for”. There has been much argument as to whether it is a long-overlooked native or introduced. One theory is that monks at Tintern Abbey introduced saplings of large-leaved limes to feed their bees, though others disagree and say there was lots of small-leaved lime there already and it will have fed on that. There is little native lime in the Thetford area and it probably arrived on introduced limes so that would support a more recent arrival. I suspect it hasn’t been here too long. The lime woods in Lincolnshire were extensively “worked” in the 1970s and it wasn’t found there until much later.

When trapping at Hackfall Woods on 17th June last year I caught an odd and rather worn Pug which I couldn’t identify. Nothing unusual there! I dissected it and immediately realised it was something unusual. A glance at the book proved it was a male Fletcher’s Pug. It has very distinctive wedding tackle. This site has a lot of mature small-leaved lime and is by far the most likely site for it to occur in my area. It is bound to occur elsewhere in the county and already will be in VC62 and 63 somewhere.

To find this species you really need decent old proper limes – preferably large-leaved or small-leaved, ie not the horrible hybrid “common” limes that are planted everywhere, though it will use these if it is desperate. It has been suggested that optimum conditions are when limes reach 60ft tall and have been undisturbed for many years. Current thinking is that Small-leaved is better than Large-leaved. For leaf-mining enthusiasts, it’s the same trees which produce lots of mines of Stigmella tiliae which again you would be lucky to find on “common” lime, so I reckon if you’ve got tiliae you may very well have the Pug. It flies in the last half of May and the first half of June; hence my moth being worn. If it’s fresh it’s actually fairly distinctive as it has a double postmedial line with a characteristic curve beyond the discal spot. It’s fairly large and is a pale grey colour. If you’re having a bad day you might pass it over as Grey Pug or Larch Pug. If it’s worn, you’ll have to dissect it. See if you can find it in 2021!

36: Broom Moth

We quite rightly get concerned about some of our rarer declining moths, but what about the common ones which are not doing well. Which ones should we be worried about? Which is the House Sparrow of the mothing world. Do we have a mothing equivalent of the Passenger Pigeon – once the most abundant bird in the USA but alas gone forever? Not that I’m suggesting we shoot moths for food, but you get my drift. Do we need to worry about species like these? If we do, one candidate might be Broom Moth.

It will be no surprise that Porritt in 1883 regarded it as “generally common” however he did point out that “Mr Dobree says it does not occur in Holderness”. A surprising statement as the larvae at Spurn feed on Sea Buckthorn and it has always been regular there, though less so recently. There will have been few records from Spurn in Porritt’s time but I would have expected some records from inland Holderness. There were no alarms when Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 said “widely distributed and generally common”, and indeed this seems to have been the case in Yorkshire until about 1993.

Since then, the situation has altered here. Just looking at one year can be misleading. In 2020 we had 141 records of 301 Broom Moths from 55 sites. It’s the best year since 2015 and I even one in my garden which isn’t a common event. That’s a lot of Broom Moths and you could be forgiven for thinking they are doing well. If you look however at the graph, for the last thirty years the numbers have taken a nose dive. OK they have levelled off a bit recently, but they have to, otherwise if they followed the trend line, we would be counting a negative number of moths in a couple of years. Rothamsted data is alarming. The graph shows a steady fall that shows no intention of levelling out. It’s not one of those species where there was a big fall in the 80s and 90s and then a levelling out as we see with so many species, instead it’s as near to a straight line as you can get with moth data and it’s heading downwards. Fast.

The third edition of our Field Guide was printed in 2017. There is no note of alarm at all. The situation is apparently rosy. “Common throughout the British Isles, particularly abundant on northern moorland”. Not a sniff of a problem. We now however have our shiny new Atlas and it’s woken up a bit. “Its abundance has decreased severely since 1970 and the distribution of this moth has also decreased significantly particularly in central and south-east England”. Indeed it has. The map itself might be misleading at the black dots are post-2000 and if you had made them post-2010 it would look at lot different. This moth has deserted large tracts of lowland England.

Some moths react to warming temperatures by moving north. Others move to higher altitude. Broom Moth falls into the latter category. Of all Yorkshire’s moths, this is the one whose uphill movement has been the most dramatic. In the 20 years between 1998 and 2017 it moved upwards an average of 6.3 metres per year. That means that the altitude of the average Broom Moth record has changed from 62m to 188m in 20 years. If you didn’t catch that the first time, I’ll repeat it. 62m to 188m! That’s quite a lot. The 2020 red dots show that it still does occur in lowland areas eg Strensall Common, Terry C’s garden at Haxby, Thorne Moors, a couple of places in VC61, but for how much longer? It is incidentally one of the few species which occurs on Iceland. Perhaps that is where it will end up.

Finally, a useless fact. It’s scientific name, pisi is because Linnaeus wanted to point out its love of garden peas. In Europe apparently it can be a pest in the vegetable patch. I don’t think this has been reported in the UK, where the distinctive and attractively-striped larvae are more likely to be found on many other plants such as heather, bracken, brambles and indeed broom.

Finally finally, don’t forget when you send in the records, its genus changed from Melanchra to Ceramica. I had to manually alter a lot last year.

35: Figure of Eight

Looking at the chart for Figure of Eight, it’s a moth that’s fallen off a cliff edge. Something horrible has happened to it in Yorkshire since about 1980. At first glance it looks like a flat line from 2000 so I’ve added a chart for just 2000 to 2020 and it proves that it is still going down in numbers at a pretty steady rate. What on earth has happened?

You won’t be surprised to find out that Porritt found it “widely distributed and often common” though he did say it was scarce in some parts of the south West Riding. MBGBI in 1983 said it was “common and widespread” and Sutton and Beaumont didn’t seem too unhappy about the situation in 1989 – “locally common although possibly under-recorded due to its late flight period”. It isn’t just Yorkshire, it’s a national thing. The Atlas says the Rothamsted data from 1970 to 2016 shows a drop in abundance of 96%, but looking at the data, this is nearly all from 1987 as until then it seems to have been doing OK. Noctuidae Europaeae in 2009 said “decreasing markedly in some areas” although it was still “widespread across Europe”, though I see the Dutch were very worried about it in 2011.

The drop in numbers in the UK has been accompanied by a decrease in distribution. The loss is patchy but it particularly marked in East Anglia, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Northumberland. There is some spread to a higher altitude and Yorkshire data shows a rise of 1.6m in altitude per year (52 to 85m in 20 years). It therefore isn’t as clear-cut a case of deserting the lowlands that we see in some species, but it’s a tendency in that direction. Climatic change is probably playing a part but it isn’t the full story, and if it really is playing a part, it is making the moth head for more upland locations but not spread north, so perhaps it is a change in farming practices in the lowlands and nothing to do with climate.

Looking at current trends, we still get records fairly regularly from one or two sites: Otley, the Ripon area (including my garden now and again), and parts of eastern VC62. Nine records in 2020 was better than the all-time low of four in 2019 and included new sites at Stokesley and Great Barugh. There have been only two records in VC63 since 2000 so this rather backs up Porritt’s observations. Is some of the problem to do with habitat? It is difficult to find out exactly what it needs, but the larvae feed on blackthorn, hawthorn, crab apple and various others. The Field Guide says “sunny situations but also shady situations”, so that’s a lot of use. It overwinters as an egg on the foodplant, so it must suffer hugely from annual winter hedge cutting. I’m sure I read somewhere that straggly old hawthorn thickets were the best place but I can’t find the reference. My own hedges are cut annually, but I have one long uncut hawthorn/blackthorn hedge forming a barrier between me and next door which might be a source of my moths. One German web site says it’s in decline in many places north of the Alps, due to “uniformisation of the landscape (removal of bushes and hedges, modern agriculture) and the dark forest management without clearings and bushy edges” which sound pretty sensible. It’s rather a parallel with the decline of Lackey which currently isn’t quite so dramatic, but hedgerow management might be a factor there as well.

It’s a lovely moth and I’m always really pleased when I see it in my moth trap in October, or often on the sheet. It would be sad if it disappeared. It’s scientific name, caeruleocephala or “blue-headed” you might not be aware refers to its larva although its head is grey and by no stretch of the imagination caerulean. Classic scholars will like the fact that it is a combination of a Latin first half and a Greek second half, which is why we never refer to “Latin” names. It’s a bit like Grimston hybrids in Yorkshire place names – half Viking and half Anglo-Saxon. The genus, Diloba, invites you to compare “two ear lobes” with the wing markings. I reckon this is a much better description than the vernacular name. It looks like 88 to me anyway.

Finally, don’t get your Figure of Eight and your Figure of Eighty mixed up. We get several records of “Figure of Eight” every year in July!

34: Welsh Clearwing

Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that there isn’t a map of Welsh Clearwing. Well done. That’s because if hasn’t yet been found in the county.

When you are ordering your Lunar Hornet Moth pheromones, it’s worth getting several clearwing pheromones. There may be species we don’t know about in the county such as Red-belted Clearwing or even Orange-tailed Clearwing. The best contender however for someone who wants to discover a new moth for Yorkshire is Welsh Clearwing. It was first discovered in 1854 near Llangollen, hence the name, and Wales is still the stronghold. Other colonies however have been found recently with the help of pheromones. It was rediscovered in Staffordshire at Cannock Chase in 2005, a “strong colony” was found at Sherwood Forest in 2008 and at Borrowdale in 2014. Info from ALS says “the insect responds well from 8:30am - 1pm. Try old stands of birch on heathland especially in Shropshire, Derbyshire or Yorkshire, they must be there!” So If ALS tells us it might occur here, we really need to get our fingers out and find it.

The scientific name, scoliaeformis refers to a genus of wasps, Scolia, which it is said to resemble. The two abdominal bands, thoracic stripes and orange tail mean it is unlikely to be confused with any other species occurring in the county, but the diagnostic clincher is apparently the central black forewing mark which has a small extension pointing to the base of the wing.

So, we really need someone to look at all of our main lowland heaths with some pheromones. Strensall, Skipwith, Allerthorpe, Thorne Moors. Even smaller ones like Pilmoor may well hold it. It apparently likes mature birches with unshaded trunks so the larvae don’t get too chilled. “Old gnarled trees growing in open acidic situations” is one description of where to look. You need to be looking in June and the first half of July. If you are investing in pheromones, it’s not a bad idea to get the full set. It doesn’t cost a lot more. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the Emperor Moth pheromones!

33. Lunar Hornet Moth

Lunar Hornet Moth is probably a lot more common than records suggest. It probably always has been. Porritt said in 1883 that it was “widely distributed and generally common” and in 1907 “all over the county and in many places in plenty”. It is arguable whether Hornet Moth also occurred in the county. Porritt thought that “Hornet Moths” feeding on poplar trunks in the south West Riding were probably Lunar Hornet Moths. It’s possible but it sounds a bit suggestive of Hornet Moth to me. There seems to have been much confusion at the time. Hornet Moth occurs not too far south of our borders so it may well have been once present. Sutton and Beaumont said Lunar Hornet Moth was “the commonest species of clearwing in Yorkshire … frequent in open woodlands, commons and low moorland areas.” It would be hard to disagree.

We have had a regular scattering of records across the county in recent years, mostly in low-lying areas. A large proportion of these have been of larval tunnels in cut stumps of willows and sallows. Some have been of adults on willow stumps, and quite a few have been of adults on mist nets. The Atlas says “this species may be under-recorded as there is currently no pheromone lure available for it”.

Wrong again! We now have a pheromone lure and it is very successful. Several people experimented with it last year and it really works. We had 21 records of Lunar Hornet Moth last year and 15 were found by using pheromones. The map shows lots of 2020 dots at new sites and it is really a map of who has been using the pheromones rather than where the moth occurs. If you want some, they are available from Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies – they have them in stock and mine arrived last week together with a nice new pheromone trap. I’m looking forward to giving them a try.

Info from ALS says: “a new lure (lun) was introduced for this species in 2020. Response times from 9am until 4pm. Multiple catches to the lure have been seen when used with the pheromone trap. Lures used in conjunction with a pheromone trap should be checked at least every 15 minutes and once the species has been seen then the lure should be returned to its sealed container. Observers should be aware this lure has also attracted Hornet Clearwing on two occasions so check your identification”. (Hornet Moth has a yellow head and shoulders whereas Lunar Hornet Moth has a yellow collar before you ask.)

So, the places are to try are those with mature goat, grey and crack willows in damp ground. In fact, anywhere with mature willows is worth a try. It does occasionally use poplar as well. You need to be looking from mid-June to early August. The peak in Yorkshire is the second week in July. Good luck!

32. Double Dart

What on earth has happened to Double Dart. In 1883 Porritt said “very common, no doubt everywhere” and in 1907 “abundant everywhere”, so it must have been one of the commoner species about at that time. It is not obvious when it started to decline. In 1983, Barry Goater, writing in MBGBI said “occurring rather locally throughout the British Isles; rare or absent in some tracts of apparently suitable county although common elsewhere”. In 1989, Sutton and Beaumont looking at the Yorkshire situation said that it was “widely distributed but seldom common” and was more unusual in “the south” and in VC65, preferring woodland on rich calcareous soils. So, in a nutshell, the distribution had become patchy at some time between 1907 and 1983.

Between 1980 and 2000, the population in Yorkshire suffered a huge crash of about 90%, and this is mirrored by the Rothamsted data where the graphs show a major decline until 2000 and then a levelling out. Our Yorkshire population has also levelled out since 2000 as you can see in the graph. Looking at the Atlas it only gives part of the story and simply charts a 95% decline in abundance between 1970 and 2016 without mentioning the sudden fall followed by the plateau which is far more interesting. This is one of the dangers about looking at abundance trends in the Atlas. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a 95% reduction over 46 years means a 2% drop each year, but it masks sudden falls and long plateaus, and this is the same with many species. The rate of change is rarely uniform.

Of equal interest is the change in distribution. Again, the reduction appears most dramatic between 1970 and 2000 with major losses in the south, centre and north-east of England. I see I wrote on the Yorkshire Moths web site in 2011 “… has been lost from many areas of central Yorkshire. Numbers in VC61 however have increased and this population is becoming nationally important” and I think ten years down the line this is still very true.

This year’s map really emphasises the point. The black dots of past records are thickly clustered in the centre and east of the county, but in 2000, the red dots show all 56 records of 84 moths are clustered in the east. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of it in central Yorkshire. It might not be on its death bed but it’s decidedly under the weather. I tend to get it in my garden on the VC64/5 border every couple of years but I haven’t seen it for the last two years. In fact, I haven’t seen it anywhere for two years. The VC61 population is interesting. It appears to have crashed earlier than in the rest of Yorkshire but has been relatively stable since 1985 and is doing very well at some sites, though actual numbers have become lower and it’s now seven years since we saw over ten in a trap at once.

There seems to be no obvious reason why it has decided to leave central Yorkshire for greener pastures in the east of the county. Perhaps the soils there are “richer and more calcareous”. Similar things are happening in other parts of the country. Not a move east, but contraction of larger populations to much smaller areas. It is a moth of broad-leaved woodland and the larvae feed on various broad-leaved trees, so it isn’t a fussy eater. Our Field Guide says “long known to undergo cycles of abundance”. I’m not sure where it gets that information from as I can’t see it mentioned anywhere else. Are we just living through a cycle? If so, it’s a rather big one. Wouldn't it be nice to understand what is causing all these different changes with our species! There seem to be all sorts of different patterns and different factors at play. Insects in general are such sensitive indicators of what we are doing to our countryside - far more than birds - and the huge amount of data we are now gathering really should allow us to draw some conclusions. Instead, the more I look at it, the more questions are asked.

31. Argent and Sable

Today, another map with no red dots from 2020. Black dots are post-1950. If anyone recorded Argent and Sable in the county in 2020, I didn’t get the records.

Argent and Sable in Porritt’s day was “common in several localities among birch”. He listed it from several sites in 1883 and in 1907 said it was “abundant in many localities in the southern and western divisions, and occurring as far north as Middlesbrough. It also seemed to have been fairly common in counties to our south and west. It was never common to our north, with very few records, the last Northumberland record being in 1956 from Dipton Woods – a large area of woodland near Hexham. Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 said that it was “now quite scarce with few records since 1970” but listed several sites from the 1970s and 1980s. The Atlas says that it is “much declined in England and Wales, probably due to unfavourable woodland management” but it is “doing a lot better in the western Scotland where it is associated with Bog Myrtle rather than birch.” In Yorkshire, apart from Bishop Wood which has been the main site in the county since Porritt’s time, it is worth looking at the last dates where it has been recorded elsewhere in the last 50 years.

Beecroft Moor Plantation, Fewston: 1981. I’ve looked for it here, unsuccessfully though the habitat looked not too bad.

Huntington (York) 1982

Askham Bog 1982

Pilmoor 1984

Owston Wood (Doncaster) 1986

Howell Wood Country Park (Barnsley) 1991

Stocksmoor Common (Wakefield) 1993

Stoneycliffe Wood (Wakefield) 1993

In 2011 a colony was found at Boltby Forest where we have had several records of good numbers up to 2018. In 2018 a moth was also seen in woodland north of Hawnby (also the Small Brindled Beauty site). So, the current situation is that we appear to have two colonies in the county – healthy numbers at Bishop Wood and regular sightings in the Boltby/Hawby area. For a showy day-flying moth, one could be forgiven for thinking that it would be unmissable, however I suspect that there may well be other colonies in the county waiting to be discovered. If we get some sunshine at the end of May and we’re not all “locked down”, it would be nice to search for more colonies. In addition to exploring more woodland in the Boltby/Hawnby areas, there may be places near Bishop Wood. Gateforth Wood to the south west looks promising – I went there too late in the year to find it. Other woodland in VC63 where it was found in the 1980s is also worth searching, especially if you can find some with low birch regrowth. It’s not impossible it might turn up again at Strensall or Skipwith Commons where there are records from the 1950s and 60s.

This is a day-flying species which should be looked for on warm sunny days at the end of May. If you look for it after the middle of June it will be too late, and the best time is probably the last week in May or the very beginning of June. It needs birch woodland (either silver or downy birch) with trees of different ages – the larvae seem to like low regrowth less than 40cm tall in full sunshine. So coppiced woodland is ideal, and the lack of coppicing may be linked with its downfall. It is worth looking for the larvae in July. They feed in spinnings – wrapped inside a folded birch leaf, feeding on the inside of the leaf creating windows which can reveal their presence. The larvae are reasonably distinctive, though it is possible to mistake them for July Highflyer which can also feed on birch.

30. Brussels Lace

For a change, here is a map with no recent dots. All the dots are over 100 years old and the locations are a little vague so I’ve represented them on a 10K grid. Brussels Lace was “rather scarce” in Yorkshire in Porritt’s time but he listed it from Askham Bog, Flamborough, Richmond, Scarborough, “between Ayton and Stokesley” and Castle Howard. Sutton and Beaumont say that it was last recorded in the “early 20th century” at Raincliffe Wood near Scarborough. It has never been seen again. It also retreated from much of lowland central England, leaving the core population in south-western counties, most of Wales and good but scattered colonies in various parts of Scotland. A similar decline was seen over much of Europe, blamed on deteriorating air quality. Several species of moth have invaded Yorkshire from the south-west in recent years, for example Red-necked Footman, Tawny Pinion, Pale Pinion, Beautiful Snout and Devon Carpet. We should be on the lookout for the next one. Brussels Lace, as its scientific name lichenaria suggests is yet another lichen feeder, and as we know, this group of moths is doing well, and they are virtually all increasing their ranges.

It will be no surprise to learn that it has been increasing its distribution “significantly since 1980” according to the Atlas, and it is still ongoing. It's on the move, albeit a bit slowly. Since 2000, populations in the south-east of Scotland appear to be moving into the north of Northumberland and Welsh populations into the south of Lancashire. Cumbrian populations are inching towards us and there have even been records in Lincolnshire. This is a moth that could reach us from any direction, and there is a parallel here with Red-necked Footman which probably invaded us from three directions at once. I have a hunch however that our first record will happen in a few years’ time in the south-west of the county.

This is a moth of woodland and scrubby areas with blackthorn and hawthorn, so there is no shortage of habitat in the county. It should be looked for from mid-June to mid-August. Its markings are fairly distinctive and you are unlikely to mistake it for anything else.

29. Scarce Footman

Porritt listed records of Scarce Footman from Bramham, Scarborough, York and Everingham. It was probably never a common moth and Yorkshire formed the northern limit, certainly on the east side of the country, though it may have extended further north on the west. The 1970 Yorkshire list decided Porritt was referring to Northern Footman and also mentioned a record of Northern Footman from Sheffield in the 1950s, but in 1989 Sutton and Beaumont disagreed and stated it was unlikely that Northern Footman had ever occurred in the county. This is likely to be correct. Scarce Footman and Northern Footman were given separate numbers in the old B&F list but are now lumped together in the A,B&H list, so Northern Footman is now considered a rare subspecies, restricted to raised peat bogs and boggy moorland from Lancashire to North Wales.

Like so many other species, Scarce Footman retreated south to the line from north Norfolk, through the midlands to south Wales. Quite why so many species did this in the first half of the 20th century is quite fascinating. Expansion of its range seems to have started in the 1960s and it followed the usual trend of appearing first in Yorkshire at Spurn, in 1970. It evidently found Spurn to be the promised land. A place it had been dreaming about which had everything a moth might need, and the most wonderful tasty lichen, so it built up its numbers there and showed no inclination to go anywhere else. In fact, for the next 36 years, the next 1,238 records on the database are all from Spurn. For an expanding moth this is a quite remarkable lack of ambition.

In 2006 it all changed. A new wave of moths arrived suddenly at four sites in the south of VC63 and the following year moths were found at several sites further north in VC61. It is not clear whether they were part of the same coordinated influx from the south or whether the Spurn moths had been looking at the travel brochures at last. The line of advance has been slow and steady since then, rather in the manner of Varied Coronet with no tendency to send out advance scouts further north and west that we see in other species. It reached VC62 in 2012, VC64 in 2013 and VC65 in 2016. The line of advance shows no sign of stopping. New 10K squares are ticked off methodically. 10 in 2019 and a remarkable 12 in 2020 – the biggest number for any species. The map shows many of these are in the north of VC62 where it has now almost reached our northern limits. Westerly spread has gone as far as Skyreholme (Appletreewick), Golcar and Thornton (Bradford). The dot in the far west of VC65 is a 2019 record likely to have come from a population in south Cumbria.

Like most Footmen this is a lichen feeder, and like most lichen feeders it has been expanding its range. Cleaner air is usually trotted out as the reason, but I just wonder if it is a simple as this. The stop-start colonisation is unusual. We appear to have had two invasions, but why was the first sedentary and the second more adventurous? The graph of records per year is unexpected. It shows good numbers at the Spurn Colony until 2000 then a fall. Since the 2006 invasion however, numbers have been slowly and steadily rising, but the rise in numbers is comparatively small compared with the territory conquered.

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?