Springwatch: Lewisham

In the event of a nuclear holocaust, cockroaches are due to inherit the earth. Likewise, scorpions are always showing off their ability to be frozen and resuscitated with a blowtorch. Whatever the fate of the planet, the future of most mini-beasts looks assured. Not so, the British stag beetle (Lucanus cervus), which is apparently the panda of the insect world.

As visitors to the Horniman Museum are reminded, Lewisham is the front-line in the battle to save the UK's largest beetle (which grows up to 8cm).

The London Wildlife Trust explains:

"Numbers have declined since the 1940s and their UK distribution has contracted from a large swathe of southern England and Wales. Recent surveys suggest that they are now more restricted to the south-east, with concentrations along the Thames Valley, in north-east Essex/Suffolk, and the New Forest. Perhaps surprisingly London is one such ‘hot-spot’, and is nationally significant for the stag beetle populations it supports.

"The stag beetle appears to be significantly more common in the south and west of London, in areas such as Lewisham, Beckenham, Dulwich, Wandsworth, and Richmond.

"Their decline has been attributed to a number of factors, the primary one being the reduction of appropriate habitat - dead wood. The tidying up of woodlands, parks and gardens has led to the burning or chipping of dead wood, and stump-grinding of felled trees removes another vital source for the beetle."

Projects like this one, by award-winning Brockley enterprise Envirowork, are helping to create new habitat for the beetle, but Brockley gardeners can do their bit, by allowing dead wood to lie around at the end of their gardens, where the larvae (admittedly alien-looking things) grow.

Sightings of the beetle are usually made between May and August, which is mating season and also flying season - so if one of them comes buzzing in to site, try not to swat the poor, aerobatically-impaired creatures out of the sky.

23 comments:

Headhunter said...

Anyhow... Moving away from the craziness of the "Retail Madness" thread I thought I'd drop in on this article. No one else seems to care about the poor Stag Beetles.

It surprised me to hear that south and western London were prime habitat for these, I always thought they were very much woodland and forest dwellers and kept away from built up areas. When I was a kid I used to love digging around in the garden, unearthing snails, beetles etc and always wanted to find a Stag Beetle... Alas I never did... Perhaps I'll try digging around my garden this weekend with renewed vigour!

On another flora and fauna note, has anoyone noticed that there are fewer birds singing in the morning than there used to be? Again in my youth, I remember waking up in the morning to quite loud birdsong (it's not as if I lived in the country - I was born and raised in Luton as I have mentioned before). Also, I never see Thrushes, used to see them bashing the brains out of snails, smashing their shells against a stone to get at the inside. Would always see broken snail shells at certain spots in the garden. No longer though. What's happened to them?

Tamsin said...

On watching - or rather lisstening to - the Spring. There is a Dawn Chorus Walk on One Tree Hill (meeting at 4.30 by St. Augustines Church). This coming Saturday, 19th April.

Really recommended (if it is not pouring with rain).

lb said...

If you want to see thrushes, there are a few around Hilly Fields - you can hear them singing in the evening. I think the songbird population has dropped overall, due to a decline in insect life resuling from land use/management changes.

I guess there are a lot of large parks in SE London, with plenty of mature trees (and dead wood) - perhaps that's why the stag beetles are still here.

Tamsin said...

And far fewer sparrows (except there is a little colony near Honor Oak Station and I have seen them in Bromley).

Apparently one theory is that this is due to lead-free petrol. The additives used instead of lead are less polluting generally but very bad for crane flies (and there are fewer Daddy-Longlegs about) and crane fly larvae are the prime food for sparrows.

The unintended consequences of going green.

When the THS park was re-done some bits of the chopped down trees were deliberty left in situ for the stag beetles.

Tamsin said...

Gosh this has suddenly got very chatty..

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I have intentionally left a large pile of dead wood/branches at the end of my garden. Admittedly so my cats can hunt for things to eat, but also good for stag beetles.

Anonymous said...

You need to leave them there now for about 5 years minimum if you want stag beetles to move in.

Headhunter said...

I had noticed and heard discussions before about the decline of the Sparrow, and have noticed that birds in my garden seem to mainly Blue and Great Tits and Blackbirds. Starlings also seem to have taken a dive. Strangely, re Sparrows, there is more or less nothing but in my parents' garden.

It's certainly true that there are also very few Craneflies around anymore. When I was at school, there used to be literally thousands all over the place in October time

tyrwhitt michael said...

One consequence of the gradual decline of the Talbot (new readers consult the cloud) has been its status as the stag beetle colony of Tyrwhitt Road.

I suspect this is to do with the fence of old railway sleepers between the railway cutting and the beer garden which are rotting nicely and also the wood left on the cutting when it was cleared a few years ago - wrong sort of leaves on the track.

Anyway the outcome has been numerous sightings over the past few summers for some reason only in the public bar not the saloon bar. It used to drive the previous landlady Avril nuts and she would usually flee scraming at the top of her head either outside or to the sanctuary of the saloon.

spincat said...

Rather to my surprise I've noticed more birds in my garden in the last two years, but, yes, mainly tits and blackbirds (and woodpigeons ). We've still got the three cats we've had for last 8 years, but neighbours with cats have moved, so could be the reason.

We had a Hitchcock-scary number of craneflies two years back but far far fewer this year. A friend who lives in New Addington said she had a plague of them last year - so maybe they have moved south, escaping the gentrification.

Headhunter said...

Someone should let the new owners of the Talbot know that they have a Stag Beetle breeding colony in the garden and that they shouldn't remove it. Stags are pretty rare nowadays

Headhunter said...

Actually one reason I have heard for the decline in birds is the increasing concentration of cats in urban areas. As we all get busier and busier, people get cats as pets rather than dogs as cats need less attention, walking etc. Consequently cat populations in urban areas are unnaturally high.

lb said...

Well, if all it takes to look after a stag beetle is leaving a pile of wood to rot for five years, I know what pets I'm getting.

Amanda said...

Those trees that the council is chopping down, what is happening to the wood? I know it's said the tree at St' John's carpark was diseased, would that be harmful for a stag beetle?

Anonymous said...

When the elms were axed due to disease we had remains at the bottom of the garden for fire wood.

One of our cats discovered a stag beetle has the ability to attach itself to a cat's nose and not let go.

We have bats, anyone else?

Tamsin said...

There's a thought - I should definitely get some stag beetles as pets! (I am not too keen on my neibhbours' cats in the garden and concerned about the birds they kill.)

On the subject of the Turdidae (I'm sorry I did have to look that up)I haven't seen many thrushes for a while but we do have lots of blackbirds (despite the cats and foxes).

Jo said...

Is anyone else having an issue with large numbers of ladybirds trying to get in the house?

Monkeyboy said...

Stag beetles attacking cats, ladybirds trying to get into peoples houses, ipod snatchers on every corner - it's a jungle out there.

fabhat said...

no plagues of locusts yet? Jo, I've been having the ladybirds too, as has Brockley Nick (i think) - there's not much you can do, except try and catch them and get rid of them that way. Apparently if you squash them they send out a revenge my death scent to all the other ladybirds...
My sister in Camberwell had the same oroblem, and sprayed the window sashes with (ecover) cleaning spray, and that seemed to help. So far it hasn't worked for me...

Anonymous said...

It's true, they release a " avenge me my brethren" scent when you squish them - but this is obviously futile against the power of a tightly spun dish cloth. I say bring it on, c'mon lady birds, come and have a pop if you think your hard enough, bring yer mates too, I'll take you all on.

fabhat said...

Anon - you may be the man/woman to save us all from the invasion - do you do house calls?

Anonymous said...

I do but I wear a very tightfitting lycra outfit which may be offensive to some.

Tamsin said...

How dare you squash ladybirds?! Their brethren (and sistren) (and little children, the youngest of which is called Anne) are right to wreak vengence.

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