Inspired by a revelatory encounter with a Poplar Hawk-Moth – a huge, velvety-winged wonder wrapped in silver – James Lowen embarks on a year-long quest to celebrate the joy of Britain's rarest and most remarkable moths. By hiking up mountains, wading through marshes and roaming by night amid ancient woodlands, James follows the trails of both Victorian collectors and present-day conservationists. Seeking to understand why they and many ordinary folk love what the general public purports to hate, his investigations reveal a heady world of criminality and controversy, derring-do and determination.
From Cornwall to the Cairngorms, James explores British landscapes to coax these much-maligned creatures out from the cover of darkness and into the light. Moths are revealed to be attractive, astonishing and approachable; capable of migratory feats and camouflage mastery, moths have much to tell us on the state of the nation's wild and not-so-wild habitats.
As a counterweight to his travels, James and his young daughter track the seasons through a kaleidoscope of moth species living innocently yet covertly in their suburban garden. Without even leaving home, they bond over a shared joy in the uncommon beauty of common creatures, for perhaps the greatest virtue of moths, we learn, is their accessibility. Moths may be everywhere, but above all, they are here. Quite unexpectedly, no animals may be better placed to inspire the environmentalists of the future.
James Lowen is an award-winning author specialising in travel and natural history, with two of his books receiving the accolade of Travel Guidebook of the Year. He also writes for publications such as The Telegraph, BBC Wildlife, Nature's Home and The Countryman. A childhood exploring the Yorkshire coast inspired a lifelong passion for all things natural. As a teenager James was stalked by a jaguar while surveying birds in South America. In his twenties, he interspersed advising the UK Government on environmental policy with intensively exploring the tropics. In his thirties, he guided ecotourists around the polar regions before returning to Britain to combine writing with raising his daughter. In his forties, having long disdained moths, the scales fell from his eyes and his life changed forever.
"The literature (as opposed to science textbooks and field guides) on British moths is fairly scant. [...] So this new book, with its conversational style and witty title, is not competing in a crowded market. James Lowen’s approach to moths is ‘The Quest’. Unlike with butterflies, it is impossible to see all 2,500 British moths in a single year (a lifetime would be pushing it). Instead he chooses 120 of our rarest moths, ‘each with a story worth telling’, mostly macros but with a few selected micros, too. [...] He is a generous and imaginative, and, yes, ‘intoxicated’ describer. The quest has barely got going before we are introduced to the Pale Tussock’s ‘shag-pile furriness’ and the male Muslin Moth’s ‘grey mad-professor hair’. [...] It is all quite good fun, though perhaps best tackled a chapter at a time rather than all in one go. [...]"
– Peter Marren, British Wildlife 32(8), August 2021
"[...] This is a breathless, headlong, helter-skelter of a book, the author constantly tearing up, down and across the country in pursuit of the latest lepidopteran delight. [...]Lowen's account of his year of manic nothing is hugely entertaining, but a side-effect of his ripping yarns style is that he doesn't always stop to check that what he's written makes sense. [...] We're also dealing here with a classic quest, but to me not a very satisfying one. The trouble is there are just too many damn moths, too many of them are rare, and the number is constantly changing anyway; [...] In short, I loved the ride, but I wasn't so sure about the destination."
– Ken Thompson, The Niche 53(1), spring 2022
"If moths mean nothing to you, opening this book is like stumbling from a dark street into an unexpected party. Here is colour, wonder, surprise – and fun. A jolly, generous, kind-hearted host, James Lowen unveils a splendid serving of moth intoxication!"
– Patrick Barkham
"Charming and awe-inspiring. Whether you love or loathe moths, this book is for you."
– Kate Bradbury
"With prose as rich and velvety as a Black Rustic's wings, in Much Ado About Mothing James Lowen shines a welcome light into the hidden world of Britain's moths, those consumed by their beauty and conservation, and the places upon which they depend. Their stories are remarkable and, in this delicious book, Lowen serves them with the relish they deserve."
– Jon Dunn
"Gloriously uplifting, hilariously eccentric; a big warm hug of a book written straight from the heart. Moths at their most inspiring, nature writing at its finest."
– Helen Pilcher
"Whether recounting nights spent searching for moths amid the heather or relating an autumn dedicated to the perfect blue of Clifden Nonpareil, this boy can write!"
– David Gedge