We are very fortunate to have a long and popular tradition of amateur natural history in the UK. People have been collecting, studying and recording moths here for centuries.
The earliest known British book to include moths was Theatrum Insectorum published in 1634! Many others followed but it was not until 1967, over three centuries later, that the first national recording scheme for moths was set up.
This was instigated and co-ordinated by John Heath at the Biological Records Centre and it continued until 1982, when John Heath retired. Some 640,000 records were contributed to this scheme (see map) and these have recently been made available to the new National Moth Recording Scheme.
At the local scale, there have been many recording initiatives and publications of county moth books and lists. This ‘grass-roots’ effort continues to this day, with the publication of detailed colourful atlases of moth distributions at county and regional scale.
From 1991 until the advent of the National Moth Recording Scheme, records of scarce and threatened moths were collated at the national level, first by Paul Waring and latterly by Butterfly Conservation, both with support from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. In addition, Rothamsted Research has operated a national light-trap network since 1968, intensively sampling sites to monitor moth population levels.
The records of moths made by recorders over the centuries provides us with a vital historical baseline against which the changing fortunes of moths can be assessed.