The Moths of John O’Gaunt Golf Club

Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2018 Steve Thompson shares with us the results of his mega moth night on 1st August 2020. Steve has worked at John O’Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire for 30 years and his passion for wildlife earned him the title of Conservation Greenkeeper in the 2018 Golf Environment Awards. During his time at the Club, Steve has built up an enviable dataset of all of the wildlife supported by the two parkland golf courses including birds, bats, badger, otter and more. Here, Steve shares with us the results of a moth trapping evening which he enjoyed back in August this year.

Steve Thompson with one of his many moth-friendly wildflower areas at John O’Gaunt Golf Club

Moths are often thought of boring little brown jobs, not much good for anything apart from maybe being the cause of holes in clothes but, with over 2,500 species in the UK alone, maybe there is more to this insect then meets the eye. Moths are important pollinators and play an important part in the functioning of our ecosystems providing a vital food source for many other animals such as bats or birds and are also an integral indicator of habitat loss.

While some might well be considered ‘little brown jobs’ there are an awful lot that are not. Some are very colourful and some just beautifully marked like the Large Elephant Hawk Moth or the Straw Underwing or some a bit of both like the Merveille de Jour (see below from left to right).

Moths consist of two groups: Macros and Micros. Each group splits into different families. On the whole, the macro moths are larger and the micro moths much smaller but there are a few exceptions to the rule. For context, our largest resident moth, the Privet Hawk, has a wingspan of 9-12 cm (see below) and micro moths often less than 2 cm. The Garden Grass Veneer shown on the right below measures just 19-24 mm.

While you might see some moths flying during the day most are only active at night so, how do you see them? One way is by using ‘moth traps’. There are various different kinds. Check out this website to find out more info.

Essentially, moth traps all do the same thing by using a light to attract the moths into a container of some kind. The trap is often left over night, checked in the morning and then all trapped moths are safely released. You can also stay out at night to see more species as not all moths go in the trap. This is exactly what I decided to do in August this year at John O’ Gaunt Golf Club.

I have recorded around 400 species of moth at the Club since 2015 but there is one special moth in particular that frequents the elm along the bridlepath on the Carthagena course; it is the White Spotted Pinion Moth now restricted to some sites in southern England. It was going to be a mega moth night with six traps set: four on the Carthagena course and two on the John O’ Gaunt Course to maximise our chances of seeing this special moth. I invited along a friend, James Lowen, wildlife writer, guide and photographer who had never seen one before but wrote all about the night here, Marie Athorn and John Day from the RSPB and a local moth enthusiast Robin Wynde.

We met in the golf club car park at 8pm, greated each other with socially distant handshakes, and loaded up my truck with all of the equipment including moth traps and generators and made our way to the site to finish setting up (I had already set up two traps down by the tractor sheds). Marie had brought along her battery powered Heath Trap which we set up on the 15th tee on a white sheet whilst James went down the bridlepath to find suitable spots to set up his equipment: three traps, a generator and lots of cable. Everything was set to go and we switched on. Now all we had to do was wait for the moths.

The first few arrived at the heath trap on the tee: Marbled Beauty, Water Veneer moth and Ruby Tiger. Meanwhile, on the bridlepath moths started to appear with Riband Wave, Scarce Footman & Large Yellow Underwing. It certainly kept us fit going between the traps checking everything. After a while James had found one of the pinion moths, a Lesser-Spotted Pinion which was a good sign and it wasn’t long after that that he had found what we were looking for, a White Spotted Pinion, FANTASTIC! The most I have had in one night is two!

As the night progressed we soon found another resting on the white sheet around another trap. This night was going to be good one!

White spotted pinion – hurrah!

In one trap we found a large moth, the Oak Eggar, which was new for the site. There was also lots of micro moths,  Tinea trinotella (Bird’s-nest Moth),  Pammene aurana (Orange-spot Piercer), and Chrysoteuchia culmella (Garden Grass-veneer) to name just a few. By the time we started packing up at 00.30 we had caught an amazing SIX White Spotted Pinion. Unbelievable stuff and we still had the two traps on the other course to check, what else would we find?

Oak eggar moth

When we got to the tractor sheds we started to check one trap and found a Pine Hawk Moth  and a Dusky Thorn but then wasps and a hornet started to appear so we left it and looked at the other trap. Another Pine Hawk Moth and a Hoverfly (Vollucela pellucens) but yet more wasps! They were looking quite active so we decided to leave these two traps until the morning when the wasps would be less active and quite docile.

I turned up the following morning with much anticipation after the previous nights events. I had two traps left running, a small heath trap with an actinic light and a bigger trap with a Mercury Vapour bulb. I checked the heath trap first and found quite a few moths including Black Arches, Iron Prominent and Brown China Mark before moving on to the MV trap. I started going through the egg cartons and couldn’t believe my eyes when I found another two White Spotted Pinion, making a total of eight for the night. This is a new site record and it proves that this moth is doing very well here and its habitat needs to be protected. In fact, that section of the bridlepath is now an official County Wildlife Site because of that moth and several scarce butterflies species seen in the same area.

I also came across a strange looking moth that I had not seen before called a Birds Wing Moth, see above to the right. Other moths included Lime Speck Pug, Whitepoint and Least Carpet.

The night of the 1st August was one of the best moth nights I have ever had at the golf club. We recorded over 200 moths of 95 species including several new species for the site and the record number or White Spotted Pinion Moth.

I urge every golf course to get mothing. It truly is a most fascinating and rewarding hobby, you just never know what you’re going to find. There are numerous places online where you can get advice and purchase moth traps such as the one I mentioned earlier in the article or here.

You can find and get in touch with your local moth group on the Butterfly Conservation website and you can even make your own moth trap as I have done in the past using a large plastic tub and various electrical components.

If you want to learn more from likeminded individuals, there is a great Facebook group called Moths UK Flying Tonight. They are a friendly bunch and great for helping ID and general mothing advice along with it’s sister page Moth Traps UK for help and advice on traps.

I am also available for help and advice where needed with mothing and, if you want to try it out before committing to purchasing anything, I can come out to you to try it out and see what you think. I am also happy to share the full survey results with anyone who is interested to know the full count and species list. I can be contacted by email on slt72@hotmail.co.uk, mobile 07803362069 or through Facebook.

GET MOTHING IN 2021!

Steve Thompson