Stag beetle habitat: BWMG’s first construction job in the water meadows

2020 has been anything but normal. Despite that, Bury Water Meadow Group’s (BMWG) last work party of the season went off extremely well. The entrance to Ram Meadow at Barwell Road is now looking like a proper entrance to a Local Nature Reserve, complete with log-lined paths with chippings laid, they had become very muddy due to such high footfall in these strange times, and a des res for stag beetles, nationally endangered but not extinct in Suffolk yet. The LNR designation is something BWMG hopes to achieve with the help of West Suffolk Council in the months to come.
In order to keep our distance from each other a small group went off to the scrape, where there was still a very big pile of wood chips from the non-native white poplars which had come down in that area. They continued to lay them on the muddiest of the paths as well as the entrance area. Although we will soon have barrows of our own thanks to a generous grant by the Town Council, we were lucky enough to be able to borrow the Abbey Gardeners’ barrows, as cooperation between BWMG and the Abbey Gardens is strong, since the appointment of Martina Georgieva as Park’s Manager.

Another group helped with collecting wood to construct the path edges and another group cut back the brambles to as far as the existing logs lining the entrance, with more being laid using a fallen cherry tree cut up by one of our chainsaw-trained volunteers.
The existing logs were well on their way to rotting which is how it should be. Too often wood is felled and burned or tidied away leaving nothing in situ to provide a niche ecosystem for invertebrates which feed on dead and decaying wood in contact with the ground. Tree stumps left where they grew will eventually rot underground and this is the perfect habitat for stag beetles which we know thrive in parts of Thurston but have not been found by BWMG yet. If you see one, we would love to know!

Stag beetles are the largest and one of the most spectacular insects in Britain, adult males can grow as much as 7.5cm long including its very large jaws which look like the antlers of a stag, hence its name. They may look fearsome but are completely harmless and a joy to watch males fly round on early summer nights looking for the smaller females. Another reason why it’s a privilege to see one is that they can spend up to 7 years underground as larvae, feeding on decaying wood, only emerging for a few weeks in the summer to mate, using those huge antlers in courtship and combat.

So to help this iconic beetle find suitable egg laying sites, we constructed a stag beetle log pyramid designed by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species or PTES.  First a 50cm round hole was dug about a metre in width and then logs were gleaned from around the meadow, some already starting to rot and some recently cut.  They needed to be straight but of varying lengths and were arranged end down and packed around with soil and wood chips. 

It resembled the Hong Kong skyline with those extraordinarily slim skyscrapers all packed in tightly or a pyramid with the tallest log in the centre with shorter ones round it. It’s a good idea to site it in dappled shade so that the logs don’t dry out as the rotting process underground is key. Volunteers will go back after Christmas to pack it down again and then let the weather and time do the rest. Now one has been constructed another will be easy, next time!

The volunteers sat on spaced out logs for their well-earned coffee break with homemade chocolate fridge cake curiously called Polish Cake, to replenish their energy spent.  All agreed that faced with the troubling times we find ourselves in, it’s good to get out and do some good in Nature. 

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