MOTH numbers are crashing at an alarming rate in South Lakeland, reflecting what has happened nationally over the past 40 years.

Once common species such as the lempkay’s gold-spot and the large yellow-underwing are becoming less frequent in South Lakeland and north Lancashire.

Reasons include the poor weather over the past few years and a loss of habitat.

According to The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013, a report by the charity Butterfly Conservation, three species of butterfly have become extinct in the last decade, including the orange upperwing and bordered gothic.

That follow the extinctions of 62 species during the 20th Century, with two-thirds of common and widespread larger species also known to have declined.

Some once common garden species such as the Garden Tiger and the Spinach have decreased by more than 90 per cent from 1968 to 2007 and now face extinction.

Although the report says the losses were much greater in the south, Rob Petley-Jones, a Natural England reserves manager and moth enthusiast, says it is a similar story in the Bay area.

“I’ve been trapping moths for years to monitor them and it’s clear that there has been a decline in the more common species,” said Mr Petley-Jones, of New Hutton. “Whether that decline is permanent or not remains to be seen but last year was appalling for a lot of butterflies and moth numbers probably due to the bad weather.

“My general impression is that very common species are now less common.”

Mr Petley-Jones added that there could be a knock-on effect on animals higher up the food chain because moths were a great source of bat food.

“This decline is probably happening across the invertebrates because everything is interlinked,” said Mr Petley-Jones. “It is very worrying.”

Mr Petley-Jones wants gardeners, farmers and land managers to create small corners in fields or gardens as habitats for moths – not just as a place to live but so they can hide from predators.

Temperatures in the North have seen spe-cies once foreign to the area, such as Blair’s Shoulder-Knot leautieri, seen in traps more frequently.

The report reveals that more than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain this century.

Climate change is seen as a major driver for the colonisers as conditions heat up.

Butterfly Conservation surveys manager and lead author of the report Richard Fox said: “Much has been made of the decline of butterflies and honey bees but the declines of once common garden moths and overall decrease in moth abundance are a damning indictment of how human activity has devastated wildlife.”