Stanislaw Szydlo [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsI always look forward to reports from Butterfly Conservation – not because they are always full of good news but because they are always very professionally produced, always teach me something I didn’t know and always have the mixture of graphs, images and words that does it for me.
Their latest report ‘The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013‘ is just as fascinating as all the others.
Most moths are quite small and quite dull – although that isn’t what the report says! But this report deals with the larger moths, some of whom are extremely beautiful if looked at in the right way – take a look at the elephant hawk-moth on the back cover for an example (and another image at the head of this blog).
Dull or not, and I’m sure the authors would say ‘not’, and they are the experts, there are an awful lot of moth species and they are of great importance. Not only are they bird food (as Martin Warren always teases me) but they are also important plant pollinators.
Of the 2,500 UK moth species, 900 are covered in this report and the bottom line is that they have declined in abundance by 28% (despite many individual species increasing) since I was in the top class in primary school (1968). 900 species – that’s not a trivial chunk of UK biodiversity – more species than all the vertebrates put together.
As the report says: ‘The substantial decline of Britain’s larger moths is one of the clearest signals yet of potentially catastrophic biodiversity loss caused by human impacts on the environment, which is of great conservation concern and potentially threatens some of the ecosystem services upon which the human race depends.’. At first, perhaps, that claim sounds a bit overblown – but I don’t think it is.
And Butterfly Conservation also says; ‘…there are significantly fewer individual moths in Britain now than 40 years ago and, while many rapidly declining moths are still regularly recorded in back gardens and other habitats across the country, their populations are a shadow of their former selves. Like the House Sparrow, Hedgehog and Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, moths that were once taken for granted, such as V-moth and Garden Tiger, are now unusual sightings in many people’s gardens.’. I like that point because it is important for us to realise that it is the everyday, the common, the usual, that is slipping away bit by bit every year, and that after a period of years we look around and realise that there is just far less wild life in our lives. That is important because the maintenance of biodiversity is a true test of whether we are living sustainably on this planet, in this country and in our local area. And we aren’t!
And these are two good points too: ‘The future for Britain’s moths is uncertain. Conservation efforts targeted at threatened species have yielded positive results, but more is needed. Funding cuts and shifting government policy (away from the species-focussed UK BAP approach) threaten this hard-fought progress. Likewise, for more widespread species, the optimism that ‘entry level’ agri-environment schemes would see the restoration of wildlife-friendly habitats on a massive scale across the landscape has melted away. The need remains, but tax-payers’ money needs to be spent more judiciously on management options with proven benefits for wildlife and the environment.’. BC is clearly not optimistic that the rare and localised species can be conserved by targetted conservation action because of cuts and the pathetic nature of Natural England, and they see little chance of the wider-countryside species benefitting from the current implementation of the Entry Level Scheme in England either. regular readers of this blog will recognise that last view as my own regarding farmland birds – and it applies to hundreds of moths too, it seems.
Two fairly recent reports from Plantlife highlight the dramatic and ongoing loss of plants from our countryside, many of them formerly common and widespread flowers (here and here). This report, and an earlier one on butterflies, document the dramatic and ongoing losses of insects from our countryside. And we have almost become accustomed and blase about the dramatic and ongoing loss of formerly common birds from our woods and farmland. When will Defra wake up and extract their digits from wherever they are hidden at the moment and do something about it?
There is no lack of evidence for wildlife loss in our countryside. There is some lack of understanding about the relative importance of different factors but no lack of understanding of the things that need to be fixed to stop and reverse these declines. There is no lack of money, through agri-environment schemes, to make an immediate and effective start to putting wildlife on the road to recovery. There is no sign that Defra has a clue what it is doing nor that Defra Ministers have any enthusiasm for doing anything.