‘Stag beetle surveyors’ needed

From late-May into July families, groups of friends, and nature enthusiasts from all corners of Britain are called on to take part in an annual stag beetle survey – the Great Stag Hunt – which has been run by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) for over 20 years.

Spectacular adult stag beetles emerge from the ground in early summer and are easy to spot – they’re the largest land beetle in the UK and the males are instantly recognisable with their renowned antler-like jaws. Native to Britain, they’re found in urban and suburban gardens, parks, woodland edges and the wider countryside, and are often seen basking on sunlit walls and warm tarmac surfaces.

Now, PTES is asking volunteers to record all sightings of these iconic insects online – of either adult beetles or larvae (large, white grubs often found in soil). No previous experience is needed, and free online beetle and larvae ID guides are available to help volunteers tell the difference between stag beetles and other insects.

Sadly, the removal of deadwood and tree stumps from woodlands, parks and gardens in recent years means there’s less habitat for stag beetles (and other species that rely on deadwood) to survive – and they’ve even become extinct in some European counties. They’re also vulnerable to being crushed by traffic and humans, as they’re attracted to warm pavements and other tarmac surfaces. Despite this, PTES – with the help of thousands of volunteers – has been working tirelessly since 1998 to gather vital data, and create and improve new habitats to support the species.

David Wembridge, Mammal Surveys Coordinator at People’s Trust for Endangered Species says:

“Stag beetles, like much of our wildlife, are under pressure, and understanding how the population is changing in Britain is a big part of ensuring their future. We need volunteers to become part of a national effort to monitor these amazing animals. The data collected by the Great Stag Hunt gives an insight into where stag beetles live and what the impact of climate change might be. It’s easy to take part – if you spot a stag beetle on your commute, on the school run, whilst walking your dog or whilst going to the pub, simply record it online.”

Stag beetles are mostly found in southern England (except the North and South Downs), but there are hotspots in the Severn Valley and in coastal parts of the southwest. Last year over 14,000 stag beetles, including 200 larvae, were spotted by thousands of volunteers. As expected, south east England had the highest number of records, with a staggering 2,269 beetles recorded in Hampshire, 2,154 in Greater London and 1,355 in Surrey.

However, there was one unexpected record from North Ayrshire, Scotland. Stag beetles don’t normally live that far north, so PTES needs people in Ayrshire to look out for stag beetles this year to understand whether the record is from a previously unknown resident population or if it was an accidental visitor to the region. In 2022 a stag beetle was recorded in Cumbria for the first time, but like the recent Scottish record, more records are needed to know whether it was a one-off or not.

Male stag beetle on roses. Credit Duncan Wright
Male stag beetle on roses. Credit Duncan Wright

Male stag beetles have shiny black heads and thoraxes, with chestnut brown wing cases and can grow up to 75mm long. Their antler-like jaws may look intimidating but they’re harmless and are most often seen flying at dusk looking for mates. Females are slightly smaller (between 30-50mm long), have smaller mandibles (jaws) and are usually seen on the ground looking for somewhere to lay their eggs. Amazingly, stag beetles spend most of their life (between 3-7 years!) underground as larvae, before they emerge as adults. Larvae feed on rotting or dead wood about a foot beneath the soil surface, recycling nutrients and improving the soil condition.

To further help, those with a garden can create a small, half-buried log pile, which is the perfect habitat for stag beetles and countless other species too. The location of these log piles can be recorded on PTES’ interactive ‘Map Your Log Pile’. And. anyone living in a stag beetle hotspot can go one step further and take part in the ‘Stag Beetle Count’, a wider European survey that understands how populations are changing year on year. For this, simply walk along the same local transect for 30 minutes six times between June and July on warm, sunny evenings. For more information about this survey, visit the website.

To take part in the Great Stag Hunt and to find out more about stag beetles and PTES’ conservation work, visit PTES’ website. And, if you’re on social media, PTES would love to see your stag beetle snaps using #GreatStagHunt and tagging @PTES.

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