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Last Updated: Monday, 27 June, 2005, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Bid to save rare British beetle
By Helen Briggs
BBC News science reporter

The noble chafer likes to live in old orchards

People are being asked to report sightings of a rare British beetle that emerges from old fruit trees in summer.

So little is known about the noble chafer, a green beetle with a metallic sheen, that conservationists are unsure exactly how many are left.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is calling on the public to join its latest survey.

With orchards being destroyed to make way for more productive crops, numbers are thought to be dwindling rapidly.

Consultant ecologist for the PTES, Matt Smith, has been surveying woodland for the beetles every summer for the past few years.

He spoke to the BBC News website from an orchard in Oxfordshire where he was conducting a search.

"I've been digging around in some old dead cherry trees in the wood and I've found the remains of a beetle and some eggs," he said.

"They're very shy and retiring. It is very unusual to spot an adult beetle or the remains of a beetle."

Summer of love

The noble chafer (Gnorimus nobilis) spends much of its life as a grub, living in the rotting wood of ageing fruit trees.

Noble chafer (Image: Matt Smith)
Noble chafers are most often seen on sunny days between July and August (Image: Matt Smith)
It reaches adulthood in its second summer, and crawls out to breed and feed on flowers such as hogweed, before dying in the early autumn.

The best place to look for the beetle is in traditional orchards with big old trees during July and August.

The adult tends to be found high up in the trees, in old pruned wood or woodpecker holes.

"Hanging on to the old traditional British orchard is the key thing to keeping the noble chafer as a British beetle," said Matt Smith.

"They're a flagship species, very photogenic and the public can spot them," he added. "If you've got the habitat for the noble chafer, you've got the habitat for other dead wood beetles and things that like old orchards."

Rare sighting

Historic records show the noble chafer was once widespread in England, from Cumbria in the north to Devon in the south.

But the beetle has been losing its habitat, and its populations shrinking, for more than a century.

The PTES hopes that if enough volunteers take part in the survey this year, new populations may be identified and, in the long term, more can be done to save the endangered species.

Map showing the noble chafer distribution, BBC
The key areas where noble chafers are thought to live
The beetle has been recently seen at a handful of sites in the old fruit-growing regions of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

Last year, a householder recognised a noble chafer beetle from a postcard - the first reported adult from Herefordshire since 1999.

If you think you have seen a noble chafer contact the PTES or send a digital photo to enquiries@ptes.org. To receive a colourful postcard to help aid identification, send a stamped addressed envelope to PTES (People's Trust for Endangered Species, 15 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BG)


SEE ALSO:
National 'beetle hunt' planned
26 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature
Climate risk to UK apple orchards
15 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature
Orchards in decline
19 Oct 03 |  Essex


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