The Guardian view on moth-watching pleasure: the pest and the beauty | Editorial

These insects have declined by a third over 50 years. While their appetites can be a nuisance, ultimately we must protect these gloriously beautiful, elusive creatures

“Night opens; night traversed by wandering moths; night hiding lovers roaming to adventure.” So runs a rapturous passage in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a novel she had originally considered titling The Moths. The insects are a recurring theme in the book – moths dashing themselves against windows, moths darting between candles on a summer’s night. In her essay The Death of the Moth, she describes an insect trapped in her window: “Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body.”

Woolf’s identification of this little invertebrate with a vital but fragile life force takes on great poignancy with the charity Butterfly Conservation’s publication of its report The State of Larger British Moths. The study, the first comprehensive account of the insects produced by the organisation since 2013, makes for sobering reading. Over the past 50 years, moth abundance has declined by a third in Britain. This stark change is attributable, say the researchers, to agricultural practices, habitat loss, light pollution and, above all, global heating.

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