Growing up in Lewisham as a kid, the sight of a stag beetle on the pavement was not unusual. You can see where 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. When you witness a stag flying around the impression is of a veritable thug who’s had too much to drink. But stag beetles are perfectly harmless and have, like much of Britain’s wildlife, suffered immense declines since the Second World War. Why is this? Stag beetles are dependent on rotting wood in woodland habitats. The suburban sprawl of the post-war period saw extensive loss of habitat, ancient woods were felled and grubbed out and the ensuing countryside tidy-up has been so damaging to our wildlife, particularly for our bees and butterflies. But, funnily enough, London is a great place to find stag beetles, particularly Lewisham and Southwark. In the past week I’ve seen three male stag beetles, two of them in flight 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, as windy and wet weather is unsuitable for a cruising stag dude. 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.
What can you do to help stag beetles after you’ve let London Wildlife Trust know about your sighting? If you have a garden, allow a wild fringe to evolve and create deadwood piles near trees to mimic a woodland habitat. If you have a tree that’s dead or been felled, let the part of the wood or at least the stump remain there. It’s all about keeping things messy. It’s a good idea to keep your cat in from dusk onwards, when the beetles are likely to be roaming. If you don’t own a garden why not join a local Friends of group for a park or nature reserve and help to create stag beetle habitat, or set an area aside for them in your community garden. Stags beetles need our help, and by finding out where they are today we can help to protect and promote them for the foreseeable future.