Joe Beale is a naturalist with a particular interest in recording butterflies and moths, dragonflies and birds. Joe carries out surveys to help us understand the invertebrates who live in The Royal Parks and in August, we held a free Marvelous Moths morning with expert Joe in Greenwich Park.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work with moths.
I have been fascinated by wildlife, particularly London’s wildlife, since I was a child, keeping nature notebooks since I was about 7 . These days I run workshops and lead guided walks on wildlife topics and it is important to me to pass on knowledge of and enthusiasm for wildlife - particularly during the ecological crisis we are facing. I survey various sites in London for these groups of wildlife.
I work for The Conservation Volunteers to help run the WildSkills traineeship in south London. This is a wonderful opportunity for young people looking to get into the conservation sector but who have faced barriers in doing so.
How does your work celebrate moths, invertebrates and other wildlife?
My work with moths includes recording in daylight hours for day-flying species and running light traps to record nocturnal moths, taking plenty of photos as I go. I write reports detailing what I find and give my recommendations to the landowners or local councils about how to enhance habitats to help moths and other wildlife. It’s challenging at times (given the unpredictable British weather and the early starts, or the identification challenges that moths can provide) but always exciting!
What is your favourite moth?
That’s a tough question – I’m fond of the thorns (large, chunky moths with wings that look like autumn leaves) and the slender grass moths in the Crambidae family, which are rather subdued in colour but are still very varied and very important for grassland ecosystems.
What are your earliest memories of moths or other invertebrates?
I’ve always been fascinated by insects and liked picking them up or ‘rescuing’ them from pavements. For example, I used to (and still do, in fact) move Stag Beetles from the middle of pavements to the nearest garden or safe-ish space so they won’t get trampled!
Interesting fact: did you know some moth larvae live underwater in ponds and lakes? For example, the larvae of the Small China-mark moth – which I recorded in Greenwich Park the other day – live below the water’s surface inside a protective case made from pieces of duckweed.
Do you have a favourite Royal Park? What do you value most about urban green spaces as habitat for moths?
Greenwich Park is the park I have known since I was a child and I’ve built up a good knowledge of the wildlife and habitats there. I enjoy seeing the seasons changing by observing changes in the wildlife.
Urban green spaces contain an extraordinary range of habitats and plant species, often superior to rural areas where intensive agriculture has reduced biodiversity in many places. The Royal Parks also have veteran trees that have held on for hundreds of years and still have moths that were present from a long time ago. The Royal Parks are becoming even better as sympathetic management regimes are applied - such as leaving longer grass in places.
What species did we record for Marvellous Moths?
During our Marvellous Moths morning, we discovered 20 moth species including the Dingy Footman, Tree-lichen Beauty, Jersey Tigers, and Brimstone moths
The Dingy Footman and Tree-lichen Beauty, both eat lichens as caterpillars. Fifty or more years ago, lichens would have been much less common due to Sulphur pollution, but since the Clean Air Act, levels have reduced dramatically allowing some lichen species to colonise and provide food for these moths.
The bright yellow of Brimstone moth and bold zebra stripes and bright orange-red of Jersey Tiger shows that some moths are just as brightly coloured as the most vivid butterflies!
Why is it likely that we found those moths in Greenwich?
We are lucky in Greenwich Park to have a healthy range of habitats – from long grass with wildflowers to veteran oaks, shrubs and scrub, small ponds and even lichens on trees.
Many invertebrates can be species-specific when looking for food plants, so it’s important to have a variety of trees and shrubs. Common White Wave caterpillars need deciduous trees such as Silver and Downy Birches, while Maiden’s Blush and August Thorn require Oak trees. Brimstone Moth needs trees such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn.
The areas of longer grass in the Royal Parks, are every bit as important as the trees and bushes. Species including theStraw Underwingand Straw Dot are common grassland moths and are key parts of the local ecosystem, providing food for other invertebrates, as well as bats and birds. Protecting invertebrates benefits the whole ecosystem and makes for a healthy park.
The Marvelous Moths event was held by The Royal Park’s Mission: Invertebrate project in partnership with Joe Beale. Thanks to the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Mission: Invertebrate carry out expert research, develop habitats and offer opportunities for people to learn about invertebrates and about why they are the most important creatures living in the parks.
Click here for more information about upcoming events at The Royal Parks.