The first thing to note about this book is my despair at the title. Urgh — I so wish I’d thought of it. I can only regain composure by imagining that I will, one day, write a book about just how much fun it is to keep bees in Berkshire — The merry hives of Windsor. Anyway, moving on. On 7 July 2012 James Lowen felt a buckling of the knees when the strange beauty of a female poplar hawk impinged on his previously held belief that all moths were small, and dull and brown. A velveteen version of a science fiction spaceship, it started a cascade of curiosity and wonderment that eventually took him on a year-long odyssey to find strange moths, and curious moth-ers in far-flung places across the British Isles.
Beginning in January, in his Norfolk garden with Winter Moth and Spring Usher, his sights gradually get higher and anticipation greater through the year, as he starts to think about mythical beauties like the Clifden Nonpareil and Death’s-head Hawk, Kentish Glory and Flame Brocade. These are all sought out, but so too are many smaller more secretive beasts like Hypercallia citrinalis recently rediscovered near Oban, Grey Carpet clinging on in The Breck, and Fisher’s Estuarine Moth, which, according to the interpretation boards along the promenade, now has the narrowest nature reserve in Britain to help it survive the tourists and wild weather that lashes the Thames Estuary near Whitstable.
It’s not just about the moths, though, as he bumps into a procession of enthusiastic, knowledgeable, odd, and sometimes zealous moth boffins (his word moffins needs wider acceptance). Using clearwing pheromone lures and light traps (some more portable than others), sleeping in cars, shivering on mountainsides, or clambering down precipitous gorges, Lowen brings a charm and wit to these close encounters, making them personal and intimate, and a delight to read. Shame about that title though.