Discovering moths up north

This was written for the Newsletter of the Sussex Moth Group.

The civil parish of Forest Row is right in the middle of the northern edge of Sussex, bordering Kent, Surrey and the modern county of West Sussex and has a rather dispersed population of about 5000. Just under two years ago a group of us got together to set up the Forest Row Natural History Group, a very informal group for anyone with an interest in our local environment. We have (approximately) monthly meetings going for short walks and other activities in the area; sometimes there’s only three of us, other times twenty. In addition, we often have fairly spontaneous walks, and encourage people to share what they’ve seen on the Facebook group.

For 2015 we thought it might be fun and instructive to start a project to record all taxa in one of our local kilometre squares. We have a range of expertises but that does mean that our recording is necessarily biased towards our more familiar groups. Nevertheless, it has been a great incentive to see what else we can find on our doorstep.

The kilometre square we chose is TQ4335, just to the north of the village centre, and includes Tablehurst, a biodynamic farm with lots of nice habitats, and Emerson College, as well as a bit of the Medway. The square has already turned up some rare plants, such as Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) and the moss Oxyrrhynchium schleicheri.

However, none of us had much experience with moths. A few of us had been to moth trapping events, and knew one or two, but we were pretty much beginners. And we didn’t have any kit. Still, that didn’t stop us beginning to get to know some of the common mines, larvae, and day-flying species.

Picture of Stigmella floslactella mine

Stigmella floslactella mine on Hazel

An important realisation happened quite early on. Tom Forward (who works for the Wildlife Trust) found the very smart Grapholita compositella on brambles back in May, and then we looked at the distribution map and saw how few dots there were for it; clearly, though there has been moth recording around here for decades, it is really easy to contribute useful new data.

Picture of Grapholita compositella

Grapholita compositella

Sweeping the rather lovely Pixton Meadow turned up many common species, though often they too turned out to be under-recorded in the hectad, eg Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica) and the micros Celypha lacunana and Glyphipterix fuscoviridella.

Day-time sweeping carried on through June, then, increasingly curious about the moth fauna, Tom borrowed a MV trap in July and we were hooked. Having set the trap up at the farm the night before, a group of us sat with the books and marvelled as we saw species for the first time: Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda), and Triple-spotted Clay (Xestia ditrapezium).

Picture of Xestia ditrapezium

Xestia ditrapezium

As part of his work for the Trust, Tom acquired a MV trap at the end of July, and it has been a treat to be able to use that to further explore the moths of Forest Row. We’ve run traps a few times over the summer, recording as we go, and then ran the trap during the Forest Row Festival in September. Unsurprisingly, a massively bright lamp on the village green attracted lots of interest; in addition to the local kids and their parents we recorded Pink-barred Sallow (Xanthia togata), the very sleek Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra), and the Australasian incomer Musotima nitidalis.

Picture of Xanthia togata

Xanthia togata

Picture of Musotima nitidalis

Musotima nitidalis

Our last trapping event on 1 November added three more species, including a few individuals of the Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx). That brought our all-taxa list for the kilometre square this year to 661, of which 87 have been moths. We’ll certainly be continuing the activity next year, not least since the moth recording should help us get to our target of 1000 species for the square.

Picture of Asteroscopus sphinx

Asteroscopus sphinx


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