One week in June is dedicated to celebrating the most diverse and ecologically important group of terrestrial invertebrates that are often overlooked – insects.
People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) works to conserve many UK species including the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and, to coincide with National Insect Week on 20-26 June, that are asking for the public to record any sightings of these beetles as part of their annual Great Stag Hunt. National Insect Week celebrates the UK’s native insects – of which there are 24,000 – including beautiful butterflies, delicate dragonflies and bumbling beetles.
Sadly, it is becoming rare to see stag beetles as population numbers are falling across Europe due to habitat loss and predation. PTES is working to help reverse the decline of this iconic insect by asking the public to take part in the Great Stag Hunt and by recording any sightings at www.ptes.org/gsh.
PTES has been running the annual Great Stag Hunt, a citizen science project whereby people record stag beetle sightings online, since 1998 and last year saw over 5,500 recorded sightings across the UK. These results are important in order to build a wider picture of how stag beetles are faring across the UK. In Dorset 593 were recorded and in Hampshire 901.
Laura Bower, Conservation Officer at PTES says: “People often overlook insects as they aren’t as visible as other creatures and they can be feared out of unfamiliarity. National Insect Week is a fantastic way for the public to get up close with the smaller creatures on our doorsteps and to learn about their ecological importance. The public can further help conserve the declining stag beetle by taking part in PTES’ Great Stag Hunt, which, over the last 20 years has seen thousands of volunteers take part, which helps PTES’ conservation strategy.”
Stag beetles are easily recognisable due to their huge mandibles, which resemble those of a male deer’s antlers. They emerge from now until the end of the summer months, and do so in order to find a mate after up to 7 years living underground as larvae, feeding on rotten wood. These beetles live in gardens, traditional orchards, woodland and parks and are most likely to be spotted flying on warm summer evenings. Stag beetles are prevalent across southern England and coastal areas of the south west.
To further raise the profile of beetles, PTES is working with MG Leonard, author of the best-selling children’s novel Beetle Boy. This heart-warming story follows the adventure of a young boy and his friend Baxter, who is in fact a beetle. Beetle Boy is the first part of The Beetle Trilogy, and was published in March 2016 by Chicken House. As part of this collaboration, PTES and MG Leonard have created a short film detailing PTES’ work to conserve stag beetles, which can be viewed on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1PDvzMX.
MG Leonard, author of Beetle Boy says, “There isn’t any creature as delightfully varied and beneficial as the humble beetle, and the stag beetle is the most majestic beetle we have in the UK, so it’s vital we do all we can to protect its habitat. If you see a male stag beetle in flight, you should jump for joy at your great fortune and then, please, scurry to the PTES website and record the sighting.”