Ecology and Life
The puppy room easing life's pain in a stroke
Gentle wobblings of a 'foul gull' fulmar
Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin
New to Nature No 94: Canthigaster criobe
Uggie: 'He likes to fly first class'
It's a dog's life in China: sold for £1m or stolen and sold as meat
Malibu residents hire crew to remove rotting whale carcass from beach
Yellowstone's popular alpha female wolf shot dead by hunters outside park
What I miss most in the dead time of winter is the insects
BSE testing on cattle slaughtered for food 'no longer necessary'
Malaysia seizes 1,500 elephant tusks headed for China
The vibrant river was a welcome relief after the bleak, snow-covered fields
TV Review: Miniature Britain; Weight Loss Ward; Rome
Marine conservation group says UK lacks ambition to preserve seas
UK seas to gain 31 marine conservation zones
Live animal exports going via previously unknown routes
When a dozing otter steals the show
Newly discovered slow loris species already threatened
What the male bowerbird can teach us about home furnishings
Could this really be the fearsome, legendary Girt Dog reincarnate?
Overfishing is a solvable environmental challenge for the EU
Life comes cheap for winter wrens
Ash trees consumed by something of the night
Foie gras taken off menu in House of Lords
  British moths in calamitous decline, major new study reveals
Moths are vanishing from our skies at night, declining in southern Britain by 40% over 40 years, a major new report published on Friday reveals. Three species have become extinct this century already, following the permanent loss of 62 species in the twentieth century.

The calamitous and largely hidden effect of human activities on these crucial insect populations has been exposed by light traps set in more than 525 sites across the country, which captured nine million moths between 1968 and 2007.

Two-thirds of common and widespread larger moths have declined over this 40-year period, with the Orange Upperwing, Bordered Gothic and Brighton Wainscot all becoming extinct in the last 10 years. Once-common species such as the V moth are now in danger of extinction after suffering a 99% decline, according to The State of Britain's Larger Moths 2013, a new report by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamsted Research, an independent research organisation.

But moth numbers have held up well in northern England and Scotland, with no overall decline in the abundance of larger moths north of Lancaster and York, compared with the 40% fall in the southern half of Britain.

"There is some good news but overall the pattern is very gloomy," said Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation, the lead author of the study. "Our suspicion is that the primary thing driving the decline in the south is habitat loss."

The declines recorded across such a large number of species there are 900 larger moth species in Britain confirm scientists' suspicions that human activity is wiping out vast insect populations, including flies, beetles and bees, all of which perform crucial, unheralded tasks in our ecosystems and food webs.

"If this is happening to this enormous group of moths, there's no reason to think it's not happening in all those other insect groups," said Fox. "Without insects we are in big trouble because a lot of the ecosystem services that humankind relies on, such as pollination, are going to start falling apart."

The moth-phobic may wonder what they have ever done for us, but moths pollinate plants at night, are snapped up by bats, and their caterpillars are a crucial source of food for almost all garden birds. Broadcaster Chris Packham, the vice-president of Butterfly Conservation, said: "The general public's hearts are not going to be bleeding for the Double Dart moth, but they would be bleeding for all the birds that feed on its larvae.

"For all our endeavours and achievements in conservation, we are still losing very badly when it comes to the bigger picture. Yes, red kites are doing well, other raptors have come back and we've learned how to reintroduce dormice and water voles, but these are a few species among a plethora. Ultimately, the wider countryside is becoming a desert very rapidly."

Rothamsted Research's light traps, which release the counted moths unharmed, have, however, caught a bit of good news. More than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain in the 21st century, with 27 new moth species establishing a permanent home here. Some of these new colonisers are alien species accidentally introduced on non-native garden plants, but many have flown across the channel.

Climate change is helping many moths expand their natural range moving into northern Britain, where there has also been less habitat loss. "Things have never been so good if you're a 'mother' [moth fan] in the far north of England or southern Scotland," said Fox.

Thriving moths include the Jersey Tiger, a spectacular day-flying moth, and the sombre Brocade, whose caterpillar feeds on non-native holm oak. Others are human-assisted arrivals, such as the Light Brown Apple moth, an Australian species accidentally introduced in the 1930s that has begun to thrive.

Scientists believe that the prime causes of the dramatic fall in moth abundance are urbanisation, intensive agriculture's use of pesticides and destruction of hedges, and the loss of sunlight and plants in neglected or abandoned woodlands.

According to Packham, the conservation movement must turn its "guns and efforts on the intensification of agriculture" and he says: "We've got to investigate more fully the impact of pesticides."

There are two further "elephants in the room", said Fox. Light pollution may be causing decline bats, for instance, learn to hunt moths by street light. "There is a desperate need for research to look at light pollution," he added.

Moths may also be vanishing because of increasing levels of nitrogen in the environment due to car emissions and nitrogen fertilisers. Plants such as nettles thrive in nitrogen-rich soils, crowding out other, rarer flora on which moth caterpillars may depend.
New to Nature No 96: Oncopodura fadriquei
Animal rights activists plan direct action against beagle imports
How the stink of a waterbuck could prevent sleeping sickness in Kenya
Tatler's dog, Alan, dies in bizarre revolving door accident
Insecticide 'unacceptable' danger to bees, report finds
Freedom Foods 'failing to crack down' on poor salmon farming standards
One in 10 Welsh livestock farmers illegally kill badgers, study suggests
Crab study puts pain on the menu
A large shape a bittern flies across the pond
Wolf killings are based on the most cynical of premises
New to nature No 97: Ferrisia uzinuri
Sad to see the tide turn against the otter
An owl swoops down on wings that seem as broad as they are long
Animals: are they good for supper or good companions?
Is human branding an animal-rights stunt too far?
Cat lovers pounce on campaign to save New Zealand's birds
Common pesticides 'can kill frogs within an hour'
There is something irresistibly cheerful about a flock of twite
Solomon Islands villagers kill 900 dolphins in conservation dispute
Mistle thrush numbers in decline
Guyana pledges to protect jaguars
Dung beetles navigate by the stars
How do you catch an escaped crocodile?
New to Nature No 98: Xerophytacolus claviverpus
Animal astronauts: the unsung heroes of space exploration
Pygmy elephants found dead in Borneo after 'poisoning'
A badger's biscuit-sized footprints in the snow follow the field edge
British moths in calamitous decline, major new study reveals
The lake is muted under the winter sun, like a faint watercolour painting
Should the RSPCA have pursued the man who ate a live goldfish?
Days of heavy rain have left the ancient woodland sodden
Alice Roberts: Rudolph and our early ancestors a love story
Saving the rhino with surveillance drones
Hunting with dogs ban unlikely to get free vote admit top Tories
The tracks in the snow revealed the secrets of these night visitors
A perfect winter's day for a walk
Meet the woman battling Japan's whaling fleet in Antarctic ocean
China captivated by tiny tuneful insects that sing for their supper
HBO sued by animal rights worker over abuse of horses on Luck
Some surprising facts about hedgehogs
Cats killed in cattery fire
Experience: my horse sank in quicksand
Alys Fowler: fat balls and mealworms
Hawks in danger of extinction in illegal hunting campaign
What the Japanese red bug teaches us about parenting
Fishermen back sanctions against Iceland over mackerel catch
What I learned the day a dying whale spared my life
Overfishing causes Pacific bluefin tuna numbers to drop 96%
Glistening with water droplets, the black-throated diver looked almost eerie
Kitten swallows 15cm-long TV aerial
As the rain blows over, a double rainbow arcs across the sky
A moorhen sent stone-skimmer splashes as it pattered across the river
Visit Statistics