10 December 2009
Specialist environmental experts from WYG are searching the Thames Barrier to save Britain’s rarest insect.
The Streaked Bombardier Beetle, Brachinus Sclopeta, is known only from a single site just north of the Thames Barrier, next door to the Thames Barrier Park. Fourteen people joined the finger-tip search and found four of the rare beetles and relocated them to a new home.
One of the searchers, Tim Bradford, an ecologist from WYG, said: “Finding Britain’s rarest insect so close to the Thames Barrier highlights the importance of London’s old industrial sites to wildlife. It is great to see so many local people taking an interest in saving this beetle.”
The previous translocation took place in October 2007, when WYG and volunteers from London Wildlife Trust and the Natural History Museum descended on the site, located and moved 61 live specimens to a receptor site of specially bulldozed rubble, crushed brick and concrete over 200 metres away.
Those 61 beetles have since become successfully established in their new home.
The beetle has pink and blue livery and is a pretty and charismatic beast. And, like its close relative, the Common Bombardier Beetle Brachinus Crepitans, (which is not really common at all), it has the fascinating defence mechanism of shooting out a boiling chemical mixture of noxious hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide from its flexible and multidirectional anus with an audible “pfut”.
Previous to 2007, the last confirmed sighting was at Margate in 1830 and the rare beetle was regarded as missing presumed extinct, until 20 years ago when a specimen was unearthed in a Cardiffmuseum labelled Beachy Head, 1928. This was accepted as the beetle’s last credible occurrence in Britain.
Luckily the site has not yet been developed. Careful monitoring during the last couple of years shows that the beetle is still present on both donor and receptor sites and also elsewhere near the Thames Barrier.
Development schedules have now been rearranged and work is likely to begin on the site soon with WYG ecologists to relocate any remaining beetles.
Photograph by Bill Unwin (volunteer).