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Rev. William Little, born about 1797 in Jedburgh, was educated at the University of Edinburgh and submitted his moth records to the great lepidopterist of the time J.F. Stephens, who published them (1828-34) in the four volumes of his ‘Illustrations of British Entomology.’ It would appear that after university he spent some time at Dalmeny House, close to the Firth of Forth before coming to Dumfriesshire to be tutor to the Hope-Johnstone family at Raehills, the home of the Earls of Annandale. This produced a list of over fifty moth species. By 1841 he was ordained as Minister for Kirkpatrick-Juxta parish and took up residence at the Manse (NT082008). He married Margaret Bell on 9th March 1858 and became a father twice, with a son William and daughter Christina. He died at Moffat on 17th February 1867.

In 1858 the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer published an article titled ‘Captures near Moffat’ by Alexander Somerville, of Glasgow, dated 4th September 1858. During a visit to the Moffat area he managed to record 49 species in the previous few weeks by sugaring, beating the young sallows, birches and mountain ashes, and sweeping with his net.

Nationally, entomological journals and the recording of moths nationwide had started with the Entomological Magazine (1832-38), followed by The Entomologist (1840-42) which then merged with The Zoologist (1843-1863). The Entomologist’s Annual appeared in 1855 and was edited by H.T. Stainton, who closed it in 1874. The Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer began in 1856. It was a sister-magazine to the Entomologist’s Annual to bring up to the minute news of records. It ran for ten volumes until 1861. By 1860 the membership of the Entomologist’s Annual had risen to over 1200 entomologists of which the following were resident in Dumfriesshire: W.G. Gibson of Dumfries, T.B. Grierson, a surgeon at Thornhill, W.S. Thorburn of Troqueer, W. Lennon of Dumfries, Rev. W. Little of Kirkpatrick Juxta and W.J.R. Hosach of Greenlaw, Castle Douglas. The Entomologist then started again in 1864 with volume 2 along with the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine which created its first volume. The Entomologist’s Journal and Record of Variation came along in 1890 and is still running today.

William Lennon (1817-1899), who moved to Brooke Street from 19, Shakespeare Street, Dumfries, produced a list of 42 species captured from around the area, in the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer in 1860. He also bred some of the larvae on. By 1863 he produced a further list for Dumfries of 267 species, as recorded in the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society Transactions. In the next volume of the Transactions Lennon recorded rarer species of moth including the Swallow Prominent (at that time only known in Scotland from Edinburgh) and Lesser Swallow Prominent, larvae of which he took at his place of work at the Crichton Institution. Large Emerald from the outskirts of Dumfries and Welsh Wave from Dalskairth, unknown in Scotland to H.T. Stainton, were also amongst his finds.

In volume 6 of the Transactions, Lennon recalls how a little boy brought to him his first Convolvulus Hawk-moth which he kept overnight so that he could marvel at its eyes by night. Lennon also refers to the new branch of insect lore, the study of micros, which in those days were all lumped together in one family called Tineinae. Then came his finest moment: fluttering at one of the windows at the Crichton was a small micro which he managed to capture on Friday 1st September 1865. Eventually, it was identified at the British Museum as Euchromius ocellea, a Pyralid migrant from southern Europe. It was the first for Scotland and only the third known for Great Britain, one being in the British Museum (Haworth, 1812) and the other in H.T. Stainton’s Collection, presumably the Glamorgan individual from mid-March, 1862. Another ten years went by before the region’s moths were mentioned again in brief notes.

Stainton’s two volume ‘Manual’ of 1859 would be the only guide for Lennon to work from. It contained scattered line drawings of species but nowhere near every one, so his observations would have been difficult using these books.

By the end of the 1860s, Lennon had diversified his knowledge into water beetles and brought along his collection of 120 species (out of 135 known British species) to a meeting of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. He later published a paper on the ‘Rarer Coleoptera of the Dumfries District.’ In June 1876 he caught another first for Britain at Dalskairth, a butterfly this time, a male Spotted Fritillary, as recorded also in the Transactions. However, in Emmet and Heath (1990) ‘The Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland’ volume 7, page 237, it gives the date as June 1866, but Howarth (1973) in South’s British Butterflies comments that this was no doubt another example of accidental introduction.

Lennon’s moth collection is now housed at the National Museums Collection Centre, West Granton Road, Edinburgh, but without data.

The next major work was by Francis Buchanan White (1842-1894) of Atholl Place, Perth, and was the first moth list for Kircudbrightshire, covering the area mainly around Rockcliffe in Colvend Parish. Although he quoted about 300 records he only listed 65 macro species and 15 micros.

In 1895 Edward Meyrick published ‘A Handbook of British Lepidotera,’ which had brief descriptions of each species with a few line drawings of wing venations for some species. He also published keys for the families but there were no line drawings of the actual moth, so identifying moths in this period would be quite tiresome by today’s standards; a bit like trying to key out a tricky micro.

This book was revised in 1928 but still contained the same format. They were considered the best of their time, updating on where the species could be found.

Soon after Meyrick published his handbook, Richard South, 1907-08 et seq. published his two volume ‘The Moths of the British Isles.’ This had coloured plates of the moth species and became the main source for identification up until Skinner produced his masterpiece in 1984, with revised copies in 1998 and 2009. In 2003, a revelation occurred with Waring, Townsend & Lewington producing coloured plates of macro moths in there normal resting posture. Along with Skinner, these have become the main books on macro identification.

The Gordon brothers with their father and their tutor (standing)

From 1900, Wigtownshire was put on the map with four major works. K.J. Morton of Edinburgh visited Monreith in July 1900 and recorded the many moths from the area by dusking. The collection he formed from this area is also with the National Museum Collection Centre. The Gordon brothers, who both lived in the Corsemalzie area, recorded all their hard work, with R. S. Gordon covering all the macros in 1913 excepting the Geometers and thanked his brother and seven other people for their records. In 1919 his brother J.G.M. Gordon completed the work of the Geometers, Deltoides and Pyralids. Both papers appeared in the Transactions. Fourthly, William Evans, of Edinburgh, received 966 moths during 1913 and 1914 (including 293 Silver Y’s) from Mr. D.A. Mowat, Keeper, at Killantringan Lighthouse, near Portpatrick. Evans was covering the migration of moths from various lighthouses around the coast of Scotland in the Scottish Naturalist. He detailed another list from Killantringan for 1915 and eleven species of moths were taken during the summer of 1915 at Little Ross Lighthouse, also recorded by Evans. Around the turn of the century, Robert Service (1854-1911) of Maxwelltown, Dumfries, became the major influence of natural history for the Region during his lifetime, recording many bird and Lepidoptera articles in varying journals, including many Death’s Head and Convolvulus Hawk-moth records. In 1933, Dr. O.H. Wild recorded seventy larvae of the Hummingbird Hawk-moth on yellow bedstraw at Gilchristland, Dumfriesshire. The summer of 1937 saw an infestation of the Antler Moth across southern Scotland, including Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire. Shepherds were made aware of them by the large flock of gulls devouring the larvae, with the ground eventually turning brown, only to recover back to its lush green by next year.

During the Second World War, Archibald G.B. Russell took up temporary residence near Gatehouse of Fleet. Being without the use of a car, he used sugar, daytime observations and a light while dusking, mainly around Benjarg Wood and the moorland above Gatehouse, during 1942 and 1943, to record 176 macro species in the neighbourhood. This was only the second list of moths for Kirkcudbrightshire.

Olaf J. Pullen, who taught at Wallace Hall Academy, Dumfries, started recording natural history with a Scops Owl at Kirkbean in 1944, and specimens of Convolvulus and Death’s Head Hawk-moths were sent to him for identification which had occurred from a considerable immigration in 1944.

David Cunningham thanked Mr. F.W. Smith, Boreland of Southwick, Mr. Arthur B. Duncan (later Sir), Mr. O.J. Pullen, Mr. Malcolm T. Laurence and Mr. Robert Waugh for their records on the ‘Butterflies and Moths of the Solway Area’ in detailing 32 species of moths. Further papers appeared by Cunningham until in 1951 he joined with A.B. Duncan (1909-1984) to produce a detailed list of moths taken using MV light around Dumfriesshire and eastern Kirkcudbrightshire. This being the first mention of the mercury vapour lamp for the region.

Sir Arthur Duncan (credit: The Field)
Sir Arthur Duncan (credit: The Field)

Arthur Bryce Duncan lived at Gilchristland with his wife Isobel Kennedy Moffat until their house caught fire in 1942, whereupun they moved to Tynron and spent fifteen years there. According to the Transactions they then moved back to Gilchristland until 1970 after which they moved to Castlehill House in Kirkmahoe parish. That property contained a separate insect house to the north of the house, from where Duncan worked on his moths. His vast moth collection, which passed to the National Museum of Scotland in 1984 (c. 4000 records amassed from specimens held there), has helped improve our moth knowledge tremendously, Sir Arthur having visited and recorded at many sites across Dumfries & Galloway, during 1930-84.

Sir Arthur, a farmer, who had spells as Chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, helped establish National Nature Reserves across the country, did much mothing at Kirkconnell Flow, Kirkcudbrightshire, helping that area to gain that status. He was also on the Council of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and assisted in the purchases of the Reserves in the region.

In 1981, L.T. Colley published the results of running a Rothamsted Light Trap at Eastpark Farm, Caerlaverock, from February 1975 to February 1977, in the Transactions, recording 116 macros and 2 micros. As you would expect from a coastal station, migratory macro species such as the Gem, Dark Sword-grass and Silver Y were recorded, along with two of the commonest migratory micros, Udea ferrugalis Rusty Dot Pearl and Nomophila noctuella Rush Veneer.

Further Rothamsted stations were set up during the mid-1970s and running to the early 1990s with stations at Waterside Mains, Keir, in Dumfriesshire, Gatehouse of Fleet, Bridge of Dee and Mabie Forest in Kirkcudbrightshire, Newton Stewart and Penninghame House in Wigtownshire.

In July 1982 the second meeting of the Scottish Entomologists’ occurred at the Barony Agricultural College, Dumfriesshire, including the likes of E.C. Pelham-Clinton and R. Knill-Jones. Traps were run there with 134 species being logged during the four day period, 121 being recorded in one night, which was a Scottish site record. Kirkconnell Flow NNR, Southerness and Stenhouse Wood SWT Reserve at Tynron were visited as well. On 21st July 2006 the ‘Grey Daggers’ Moth Group trapped 124 species at Port of Counan, Claymoddie, thus setting a new Scottish one-day site record of species recorded.

E.C. Pelham-Clinton (1920-1988), who worked at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, often came across to the region looking for moths or their early stages, during the period 1954-1988, and this has greatly increased our knowledge of moths for the region. His note books and moth collection are deposited at the National Museums Scotland for posterity.

Arthur Maitland Emmet (1908-2001), along with his sister, visited the Region in 1987 and 1994, adding greatly to the species list for the region through moth trapping, and of course, a lot of leaf-mine records, which was his great passion. He had previously made visits in the 1970s.

Grey Daggers meeting at Port of Counan, July 2006
Grey Daggers meeting at Port of Counan, July 2006

Moth trapping improved through the 1990s with the success of the portable traps (Heath, Skinner and Robinson) which with the increase in people being more interested in the hobby has led to an increase in moth records for the Region. This success has continued through into the 21st century. During the mid 1990s an informal local entomology group was established, known as the Grey Daggers. Group meetings helped to target interesting habitats and poorly recorded areas, and provided much useful information for the later Atlas of Britain & Ireland’s Larger Moths, published in 2018. This period also coincided with more nature reserves becoming available around the region with the RSPB opening reserves at Mersehead, Ken-Dee Marshes and Wood of Cree (VC73), the WWT’s Caerlaverock Wetland Centre (VC72), the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s handful of reserves across the region, the Forestry Commission’s vast network and the National Trust for Scotland, all of whom willingly allow moth-trapping to improve their understanding of the species on their reserves and properties.

Compiled by Keith Naylor

Timeline of local moth recording

Rev William Little's records published

Included in Stephens (Illustrations of British Moths 1828-34).

William Lennon mothing

His records appear in the Transactions from this date.

FB White moth list

Covering the parishes of Rockcliffe and Colvend, Kirkcudbrightshire.

Gordon brothers list

Macro list of Wigtownshire.

Gordon brothers 2nd list

Lepidoptera of Wigtownshire.

Sir Arthur Duncan

His 50 years of collecting moths started this year, ending in 1984. Over 5,000 records gleaned.

Gatehouse of Fleet (VC73) records

Archibald Russell moth-ed this area during 1942-43.

Mercury Vapour lamp used during 1950s

First note of MV lamp in list of Dumfriesshire moths


Seven stations were set up across Dumfries and Galloway, running until 1993.


The start of the Moths of GB & I series, increasing local knowledge.

Scottish Entomologists'

The second meeting held in Dumfriesshire. 121 species logged in one night during July, 1982, a Scottish site record.

A Maitland Emmet

Detailed list of micro moth records (Ent. Rec. J. Var.)

Grey Daggers

Local informal moth group formed.

DG Moths

Web site for the region published.


Checklist of Moths for Dumfries & Galloway published.

2nd Ed. Checklist

2nd edition Checklist of Moths for Dumfries & Galloway appears.

Biographies of key historical recorders on the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society website

William Lennon
Robert Service
David Cunningham

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