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By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Monday, October 15, 2012
In the first of a series of features on the winners of this year’s CPRE Norfolk Awards, rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL speaks to the creator of a website which explores the intricate and enigmatic lives of Norfolk’s moths.
They might not seem the superstars of the animal kingdom – but the curious nocturnal world of Norfolk’s moths has fascinated one wildlife recorder into award-winning levels of dedication.
The Norfolk Moths website, comprising a staggering depth of data on the creatures, has been recognised with an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
It is the work of owner and project manager James Wheeler, who runs the website from his home in Upwell, near Downham Market.
Mr Wheeler set up a simple version of the site in 2006 as a photo archive but, in May of this year, he completely redesigned and re-launched www.norfolkmoths.co.uk with a host of features which took it far beyond a mere catalogue of images.
It now includes notable sightings, distribution maps, species information, family groupings, news, latest photos and flight graphs.
And it covers all the macro and micro moth species ever recorded in Norfolk – a database of 1,835 species, each with its own information page.
Most importantly, it has been given an online recording utility which allows its 151 registered members to input records directly into the county database.
As Norfolk’s county moth recorder, Mr Wheeler said this utility was a significant improvement to the recording of data and has helped his website grow into a resource which is being accessed from across the country – and inspiring more people to take up an interest in moth-spotting.
“It involves a lot of sitting at computer screens,” said Mr Wheeler. “I get all the records from everybody in Norfolk who catalogues these moths in their gardens and go to various sites to look at them. They send me the records and I computerise them. It is important to know where the rare ones are in case their habitat is in danger – in case someone wants to build a bypass or a housing estate over it. That is the main thing, but it is also nice to see how many species there are here.”
Mr Wheeler, 41, is a freelance guitar teacher at Neale Wade Community College in March. His interest in wildlife was first inspired by his grandfather, Herman Nottingham, an avid naturalist who studied beetles and insects.
“My interest in moths only really started in 2005,” he said. “I think what I like about them is the fact that they come to you, rather than you having to chase them around the countryside. All you have to do is put a light trap in your garden. Nobody knows why moths are attracted to light, but it makes them easy to trap with an ultraviolet lamp, so you can study them at night and release them in the morning.”
Although national populations are on the decline, Mr Wheeler said the popularity of moth-spotting was “going up and up”.
“It is pretty popular because people can get a trap reasonably cheap and run it in their back garden,” he said. “It is amazing what you can find. We had six county ‘firsts’ in 2012, despite it being a bad year for weather. They included the white-mantled wainscot which was discovered for the first time in east Norfolk.”
Mr Wheeler has not only been the Norfolk Moth Recorder for four years, but he has also become a national authority on the subject, having published two books. His website has developed into a resource for conservationists and scientists, but it is also visited by amateur enthusiasts.“There is something for everyone,” said Mr Wheeler. “It had not been done before, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I know a lot of national recorders use it.”
In making their awards decision, the CPRE judges said: “It [the website] is massively thorough and well-designed and it is highly-rated outside of the county, as an exemplar of species recording.”
The CPRE Norfolk Awards Ceremony is at 7pm on November 21 at the Assembly House in Norwich. The awards recognise individuals and groups working on landscape, education, restoration and conversion projects which enhance the Norfolk countryside. Tickets to the event are free but need to be reserved. Contact Katy Jones on 01603 761660.