Country diary: the magical variety of moths

Country diary: the magical variety of moths

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire: From the shimmer of a burnished brass to the swarthy eyed hawk-moth, each wondrous creature draws gasps of delight

It’s a bright clear morning at Castle Howard when we meet artist-in-residence Sarah Gillespie with moth enthusiasts Jan Smith and Claire Burton from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Two big light traps have been running all night in the walled garden, and our guides waste no time sharing the contents, providing each small wondrous creature with the enlarging magic of a name.

Murmured repetitions run around the group as pots and boxes are passed or moths crawl from finger to sanitised finger. They have an incantatory quality: “Heart and dart, blotched emerald, silver Y, flame shoulder, brimstone, straw dot, wainscot, pale prominent, ingrailed clay…” The words echo and overlap, interspersed with exclamations and bursts of laughter “Turnip moth! Honestly? Flirtatious Hebrew character?” “Haha, no, not flirtatious, setaceous, it means hairy.”

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