An urgent appeal has been launched across London to save the globally-endangered stag beetle – despite being rare the iconic bugs have made a home in Wimbledon Common.
The London Wildlife Trust is appealing for a new uprising of London beetle enthusiasts to collaborate and share their beetle passion by tracking sightings.
The stag beetle is in sharp decline across Europe, and London remains one of the last bastions of hope for this threatened species.
Stag beetles are found in most London boroughs, but are more common in south and west London, from Bexley, Lewisham and Southwark to Wimbledon, Richmond and Uxbridge.
Three areas in particular – Wimbledon and Putney Commons, Richmond Park and Epping Forest – are European Special Areas for Conservation for the stag beetle.
However, researchers do not know why there are fewer sightings in north and east London – so reporting all sightings are important.
May is when the stag beetle struts onto the stage with the beginning of the stag beetle season, which lasts until late July. This year’s cold spring could delay this momentous emergence.
The males have the distinctive antler-shaped claws. They fly clumsily, emitting a faint clattering whirr, and delight most in being out and about on sultry summer evenings, especially an hour or two before dusk.
The females lack the male’s flattering antlers, and prefer to stick to the ground, insisting the males come to them.
Most of the lives of these mysterious creatures is spent as grubs in dead wood – like tree stumps and logs – spending a marathon four to seven years slowly, slowly growing in size.
Their severe decline is blamed on the ‘tidying up’ of parks, gardens and other green spaces, removing tree stumps and dead wood which leaves them with nowhere to have their grub-time.
The beetle plays an important role in eating and breaking down wood so that it nourishes the soil.
They are often mistaken as pests and inadvertently destroyed – the Trust urges people to spread the word that they are harmless and critically endangered.
Traffic, feet, cats and other predators are also great threats to London’s largest beetle that can almost reach a fearsome 8cm in length.
Although the armoured goliaths look terrifying, they are completely harmless to us – their massive jaws are simply used to wrestle other males, wrest females from their rival’s clutches – or steal them as their own.
In March, MEP Seb Dance of the Labour Party was conferred the honour of champion of the stag beetle in the Species Champion initiative, which promotes the conservation of species of European importance.
This initiative is in partnership with London Wildlife Trust, RSPB, and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).