Wicken Fen - A land of Moths and Magic

Updated: Oct 12, 2021


Reed Leopard Moth & a view of Sedge Fen



For some people, moths are annoying little flappy things but for me, Moths really are quite magical and I am always fascinated by them. I have been 'moth trapping' for quite a number of years now and have seen just a small proportion of the 2500+ species in the UK. In order to try and see a wider range of species, I need to record moths in a range of different habitats, and Wicken Fen was top of the list of places I wanted to go.


Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is the oldest nature reserve owned by the National Trust in the UK. It covers over 800 hectares and over 9000 species of Plant & Animal life have been recorded including over 1200 species of Moths, numerous Dragonflies, Birds, Butterflies, Fungi, and much more. The main habitat is of course reedbeds and at the centre of the reserve is the ancient undrained Sedge Fen. I applied for a permit to do some Moth trapping at the reserve on 14th August, I got the permit, and I and some fellow mothing enthusiasts had what was one of the best mothing nights we have ever had.


This is our story:

We all met outside the visitor centre at roughly 19.45. Myself, Richard Bashford, James Harding Morris, Ben Sale and Alex Inzani, Richard and James had arrived early and already caught our first moth of the night by net, a probable Nemapogon koenigi, Unfortunately we did not get a photo but please do check this link for info.


https://www.cambsmoths.co.uk/micros.php?bf=2170


It was one I had never seen before, was this a good omen of things to come? only time will tell.


The first job of the night was to take a wander around to decide where we were going to put the traps and how many we would use? We ended up with 7 traps spread around Sedge Fen and the Visitor centre area.

Photo courtesy of Ben Sale


Photo shows Bens set-up of his 125w MV with a white sheet behind, lots of moths settled on the sheet and around this wooden buiding.

One of my traps was just outside the visitor centre, providing another suitable place for the moths to rest near the trap.


You can just make out the light of my 50w MV at the end of this boardwalk.


What amazed me was the diversity of moths over the 7 traps, how different the moths were at each location.


Once everything was set up and switched on it was just a case of waiting for the first moths to appear and the real fun to begin.


The first moths soon began to trickle in and it wasn't long before we were flat out checking all the traps. The next 5 hrs proved to be one of the best moth trapping evenings any of us had witnessed at this time of year and it far exceeded our expectations. A lot of walking was involved back & forth between all the traps keeping a check on what was in and around them.

Ben's 250w trap as the wattage might suggest was extremely bright and attracted moths from all around, there were hundreds of them just around that 1 trap and the reeds/fence nearby, it certainly took a while to check that trap on each visit. Ben had another 2 traps running and here is just a small selection of what he recorded:




Photos courtesy of Ben Sale


There were moths everywhere in all the light traps, around them, in the reeds, on the walls of buildings. It was the perfect night, warm, cloudy and not windy. It was amazing, there were hundreds of moths.







Photos courtesy of Richard Bashford


The Reed Dagger above is right at home at Wicken being a specialist of reedbeds and fenland and the Similar named Reed Leopard pictured at the start of the blog is only found at 4 sites in the UK including Wicken Fen and the Norfolk Broads.


Wicken is truly a remarkable place and home to many unique species.


Here are a few photos I took of some of the amazing moths at Wicken including my favourite moth the Elephant Hawk Moth:




The Goat moth, Leopard moth and Small Chocolate Tip above were all new species for me and ones that I had been wanting to see for a while.


Wicken sure came up trumps.


Sometimes when using light traps you might attract other insects or animals and this was one of those nights, 1 of the actinic traps attracted a Brown Hawker Dragonfly. A species I had not previously been able to photograph as they would never seem to settle.



As the night progressed we were all astounded at just how many moths there were but there came a point where we had to start going through the traps one by one emptying them of moths and packing up all our equipment. 5 traps were emptied out and packed away and everyone apart from me left Wicken at around 2am.

I stayed over night sleeping in my car in the car park. I left 2 traps running by the visitor centre for the rest of the night to see what else might appear that we hadn't already seen.

I had a quick look at the remaining traps around 6am then switched them off and covered them up ready for when the reserve opened at 10am when I would be joined by a few friends to talk to the public about moths and show them some of what we found during the night.

I was also joined by Bill Mansfield the Cambridgeshire county recorder to help with this public event. It was a busy morning at the reserve and it was especially good to talk to kids and show them the moths. It always make me smile to see the fascination and interest they have at such an early age. It was great fun to watch them help to release the moths into the surrounding reedbed. It was a great to talk to people about moths and to educate them on these amazing insects.


Goat Moth and Leopard Moth delighting members of the public


The Moth event at Wicken proved to be very popular and hopefully people went away knowing just a little bit more about moths.

Overall on the night we recorded 224 species of Moth including 5 to be confirmed by gendeting and we must have been getting towards 1000 moths overall.


What a night!


Just a few quotes from the other guys:


Richard Bashford - "an amazing night in an iconic location. I've not trapped much in reedbed habitat- we don't have much in my home county of Bedfordshire but this didn't disappoint. It's a shame you have to sleep sometimes"


Ben Sale - "My first trip to Wicken Fen was a very special experience and I was lucky enough to be invited along and run some of my traps. Other wetland sites seem to pale in comparison to the diversity of flora and fauna that reside here, which owes to the fact that Wicken Fen truly is a wildlife oasis surrounded by arable fields"


Alex Inzani - "Arrived at Wicken Fen a little before dusk to meet the team organised by Steve. All very helpful and supportive of a Moth newbie.

A perfect moth evening - warm, still, low cloud. Amazing setups appeared around Sedge Fen, including a 250w MV lighthouse. They were well rewarded. Over 200 species were found, including Dentated Pug. Garden Tigers were almost common. My favourites were the rare Goat Moth, whose caterpillars allegedly smell of goats, the Reed Leopard and the amazing Buff Tip. This incredibly camouflaged moth looks exactly like a short length of Silver Birch twig. Here you see it perched politely upon the hand of my partner Eileen".

All in all, an excellent session. Will definately do it again.