Sunday, 1 July 2012

Have you seen a stag beetle recently in London? You’d be surprised

Daniel Greenwood explores why London's stag beetles need our help.
June 2012. Growing up in Lewisham as a kid, the sight of a stag beetle on the pavement was not unusual. You can see where some insects get the name ‘mini-beasts' when you look at this particular creature: its huge mandibles give it a sense of outward aggression, as if it's constantly spoiling for a fight. Though when seen in flight the impression is of a gentle giant encumbered with too much weight. Stag beetles are perfectly harmless and have, like much of Britain's wildlife, suffered immense declines since the Second World War. Why is this?
Dependent on rotting wood
Stag beetles are dependent on rotting wood in woodland habitats. The suburban sprawl of the post-war period saw extensive loss of this habitat, ancient woods were felled and grubbed out and the ensuing countryside tidy-up has been so damaging to our wildlife, particularly for bees and butterflies. But, funnily enough, London is a great place to find stag beetles, particularly a swathe of south London from Bexley in the east to Richmond in the west.
In the past week I've seen three male stag beetles, two of them on the wing looking for a mate and one dead on a doorstep. The heavy rain and summer break-outs have created good opportunities to view male stags flying around because windy and wet weather is unsuitable for a cruising stag dude.
Mapping stag beetles
London Wildlife Trust has launched a campaign to map the distribution of stag beetles in the city, and people have been sending in their sightings in the hundreds. It seems there's a real affection for this mini-monster amongst Londoners, it's ignited people's interest in wildlife, rekindling memories of childhood, when stags were more common (and, apparently, treated very unfairly!). It's also interesting a new-wave of wildlife watchers who can take the lead on protecting this precious species in the decades to come.

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