The decline of moths in Great Britain: a review of possible causes


Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation, Manor Yard, East Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5QP, UK. E-mail:


Abstract.  1. Population declines among insects are inadequately quantified, yet of vital importance to national and global biodiversity assessments and have significant implications for ecosystem services.

2. Substantial declines in abundance and distribution have been reported recently within a species-rich insect taxon, macro-moths, in Great Britain and other European countries. These declines are of concern because moths are important primary consumers and prey items for a wide range of other taxa, as well as contributing to ecosystem services such as pollination.

3. I summarise these declines and review potential drivers of change. Direct evidence for causes of moth declines is extremely limited, but correlative studies and extrapolation from closely related taxa suggest that habitat degradation (particularly because of agricultural intensification and changing silviculture) and climate change are likely to be major drivers. There is currently little evidence of negative population-level effects on moths caused by chemical or light pollution, non-native species or direct exploitation.

4. I make suggestions for future research with a focus on quantifying impacts of land management practices, light pollution and climate change on moth population dynamics and developing evidence-based measures that can be incorporated into agri-environment schemes and other policy initiatives to help reverse the widespread decline of moths in Great Britain and beyond.