Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moths are dull.....don't you believe it!! Part two.

Following on from the piece I put out on the 20th July, this final invitation to "getting involved with moths" dwells on the enjoyment that can be derived from being involved in recording the various species. It's a natural step after becoming absorbed by moths and learning about them to then begin recording what you find. Given moth recording has not been as popular as, say , bird recording over the years there remains much to be done.

Submitting records of what you find, and where, is important as there are still many places where year round records of the likely species to be encountered are missing. Coupled with this are the records of migrant moths from the Continent and, more recently, evidence of some species colonising, or re-colonising, parts of the UK as the effects of climate change appear to arise.

At the end of 2010 a landmark publication emerged, the " Provisional Atlas of the UK's Larger Moths ". This was the result of years of recording and resulted in the first up to date maps in 30 years for 868 macro-moth species ( the maps for the Geometridae {over 300 species } were the first ever to be published ). See Butterfly Conservation's web site for how you can get your copy!

The records had been lodged in the database associated with the National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS ) and the maps were produced from the 11.3 million records which were held within it. The NMRS was one of the initiatives within the Moths Count project run by Butterfly Conservation and the production of the Atlas after only four years was a remarkable milestone. The project will continue and the NMRS database extended still further over ensuing years ( hence the Atlas being described as "Provisional"). Since its publication a further 700,000 records have already been received giving an indication of the emerging interest in the subject and the hard work too of many, many volunteer recorders.

A further component of the Moths Count Project was to improve and extend the "presence" of Moth Recorders in each of the Vice Counties in the UK, which resulted in 34 new individuals being recruited to fill the gaps. The role of these individuals is to act as a focal point in a given area and for them to be the recipient of records generated locally, to encourage people further , promote the NMRS and so on.

The maps themselves will fill a variety of purposes. They provide a current indication of where individual species can be found, i.e. their national distribution. The requisite map for the Small Ranunculus shows it to be widely distributed but, within the dots where presence has been determined, there are gaps indicating the species has not yet been recorded. It may be absent, of course, or simply, as yet , evaded the efforts of those involved in recording in that area. Such "white areas" on a map can, in effect, act as an indication of where future recording efforts might be targeted.

By the same token, some of the maps show a very restricted distribution for certain species given, in turn , the restricted availability of the specialised habitat upon which they rely. Such maps and records are important in guiding conservation efforts aimed at protecting these very specific sites that continue to hold unique examples of our biodiversity. Eventually, of course, the maps can be used in a comparative context where an historical analysis is applied aimed at establishing where the range of a species has retracted or, indeed, enjoyed some expansion. Loss of habitat will inevitably be linked to the former, but the colonisation of specific niches by "new" species will not just indicate the timing and extent of their spread but perhaps introduce new conservation priorities dependent on their status and the availability of their chosen "home".

So, obviously many challenges lie ahead. The more people become involved, the quicker we will more fully understand a whole variety of questions raised in the past and be better equipped to address the inevitable conservation tasks which develop within our dynamic world. It is something which can take you to far flung places, or become an increasingly absorbing feature of your local environment. It is a fascinating hobby and gives a lot of pleasure so....take the plunge!!

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