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GOING WILD: The big beetle hunt

By Gavin Musgrove

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There will be a large scale search for the blood red long horn beetle. Picture: Genevieve Thompkins.
There will be a large scale search for the blood red long horn beetle. Picture: Genevieve Thompkins.

Invertebrates are often overlooked and our wildlife conservation charity is working to turn the tide.

Together with partners, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is showing we can do a lot to improve the fortunes of these threatened species, even in just a few years.

With 40% of insects at risk of extinction worldwide, it is vital we stand up for the little guys.

Our wildlife conservation charity is now recruiting citizen science volunteers to help survey blood-red longhorn beetles throughout Speyside to get a more accurate picture of their distribution and inform population estimates.

Pollinators - like bees, moths and beetles - are crucial to ecosystem function and human food production but are largely in decline.

They have been identified as a conservation priority by both the Scottish Government (via the Scottish Pollinator Strategy) and the Cairngorms Trust.

Suitable habitats for these species are becoming increasingly fragmented, making it extremely challenging for them to disperse, if not impossible.

When populations become very small and restricted, a two-pronged approach to conservation is often required - habitat protection and restoration, combined with conservation breeding and reintroductions.

Within Britain, the critically endangered blood-red longhorn beetle is thought to be restricted to just the Strathspey area.

Their larvae live in and feed on sun-exposed Scots pine deadwood, developing in the rotting heartwood and pupating in the wood.

Adult beetles are pollinators, feeding on umbellifers, willowherb, rowan, yarrow, knapweeds and other plants.

As such, this beetle is reliant on old, open structured Caledonian pine woods with large trees and plentiful pollen and nectar sources.

This habitat is rare but vital to the resilience of many of Scotland’s other native species, particularly saproxylic invertebrates (invertebrates that rely on deadwood) many of which are also important pollinators.

The last large-scale surveys of blood-red long horn beetles took place over 45 years ago in 1971 and there is no population estimate for the species.

It is possible that there are other undetected populations in the Strathspey area, or even in Deeside.

To our knowledge, no one has attempted to breed this species for conservation translocations. We hope this kind of strategy could be used to expand their current range in Britain, as well as boosting the wild population size.

In partnership with Forestry and Land Scotland and funded by the Cairngorms Trust, RZSS is now piloting a project that has two main strands - a large-scale survey for blood-red longhorn beetles in the Cairngorms National Park and a pilot conservation breeding programme for the species based at Highland Wildlife Park.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a volunteer citizen scientist and help us learn more about these vital little pollinators email glindsay@rzss.org.uk

Volunteers will need to attend a training day on Saturday 4 May where they will be assigned a 1km 2 grid reference survey square. Three surveys are required in total.

A habitat recce to determine suitable habitat between Monday 6 and Sunday 19 May and two surveys searching for blood-red long horn beetles, in good weather, from 10am to 2pm.

The first survey must take place between Monday 27 May and Sunday 9 June and the second survey between Monday 24 June and Sunday 7 July. Survey information must be recorded on the RZSS recording forms as well as the iRecord app.

Georgina Lindsay is an RZSS field conservation manager.

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