Story | 20 May, 2021

IUCN in partnership with Butterfly Conservation UK and Butterfly Conservation NL launches a new project on setting up a European Red List of Moths

Moths are biologically diverse group and as such form a significant part of Europe’s fauna. They are found along shorelines and on mountaintops, and from the Mediterranean to the sub-Arctic regions contributing to key ecosystem services, such as plant pollination (Macgregor and Scott-Brown 2020) and nutrient recycling. As a group, moths are often extremely specialised organisms, that sometimes rely on single food plants. Moths are also sensitive to the availability of certain habitat structures and specific regional climates.

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Deilephila elpenor ©Hamon jp (Wikimedia commons); Adscita statices © Frank Vassen; Macroglossum stellatarum © Charles J Sharp (Wikimedia commons); Crocallis elinguaria © Chris van Swaay; Zygaena filipendulae © Chris van Swaay; Euplagia quadripunctaria © Chris van Swaay; Habrosyne pyritoides © Chris van Swaay; Proserpina proserpina © Chris van

Photo: Hamon jp, Frank Vassen, Charles J Sharp Chris van Swaay

Population declines in moths have been identified in various European countries, and in some cases quantified. For example, Valtonen et al. (2017) identified a dramatic rate of species loss and a homogenisation of community compositions in Hungary. Antäo et al. (2020) reported that in Finland moth abundance had declined although species richness had increased. In the UK, Bell et al (2020) concluded that moths had declined by 31% over 47 years with significant declines found in a range of habitat types. Many species are likely to be threatened through habitat change (e.g. Baker et al. 2016, Ellis et al. 2012), for example agricultural intensification and abandonment, changing woodland management and urbanisation.

Despite initiatives, information on moth biodiversity that is readily available can be limited in scope and accuracy and is often out of date. However, information about biodiversity is critical to achieve both global and European environmental protection objectives.

At the European level, the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 clearly sets a target to reverse the decline of pollinators across Europe by 2030, through the EU Nature Restoration Plan and the EU Pollinators Initiative. The latter was launched by the European Commission in 2018 to improve the knowledge on wild pollinators, in particular the causes and consequences of their decline in Europe. Moths are part of this group.

The vision of the European Red List is to produce reliable information on the status of biodiversity available to support the work of conservation practitioners, scientists, land-use planners, policymakers and others. Red List data are primarily used as indicators of biodiversity trends at the species level but can also be extrapolated for use as indicators of trends at the habitat/ecosystem level.

With this new project on moths which is funded by the European Union, experts will work on assessing the regional status of all native species of macro moths present in Europe and a selection of micro moths species.

The project started in April 2021 and is expected to run until March 2024. As an output, several factsheets and publications will inform practitioners, policy makers and the public on the status of a selection of moths assessed following the IUCN’s Red List methodology.

For more details, please contact the IUCN Secretariat in Brussels at

logosPhoto: IUCN, SSC, IUCN/SSC Butterfly Specialist Group, ICC, BCE, De Vlinderstichting, Butterfly Conservation



Antao, Laura & Pöyry, Juha & Leinonen, Reima & Roslin, Tomas. (2020). Contrasting latitudinal patterns in diversity and stability in a high-latitude species-rich moth community. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 29. 10.1111/geb.13073.

Baker, D., Barrett, S., Beale, C. M., Crawford, T. J., Ellis, S. , Gullett, T., Mayhew, P. J., Parsons, M. S., Relf, P., Robertson, P., Small, J. and Wainwright, D. (2016) Decline of a rare moth at its last known English site: causes and lessons for conservation. PLoS ONE11(6):e0157423. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157423.

Bell, J.R., Blumgart, D. & Shortall, C.R. (2020). Are insects declining and at what rate? An analysis of standardised, systematic catches of aphid and moth abundances across Great Britain. Insect Conservation and Diversity, doi: 10.1111/icad.12412.

Ellis, S., Bourn N.A.D. and Bulman, C. R. (2012). Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths: lessons from the UK. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham, Dorset.

MacGregor, C.J. & Scott-Brown, A.S. (2020). Nocturnal pollination: an overlooked ecosystem service vulnerable to environmental change. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, 4 (1), 19-32.

Valtonen, A., Hirka, A., Szőcs, L., Ayres, M.P., Roininen, H. & Csóka, G. (2017). Long-term species loss and homogenization of moth communities in Central Europe. Journal of Animal Ecology, 86: 730-738.