These remarkable and impressive beetles are, sadly, a globally threatened species. They are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and are listed as a priority species for the UK and London Biodiversity Action Plans.
Their numbers have declined since the 1940s and surveys suggest that they are now more restricted to the south east, with concentrations in a number of places including the Thames Valley,
Their decline has been attributed to a number of factors, the primary one being the reduction of their essential dead wood habitat and ‘tidying-up’ of woodlands and parks is one of the prime reasons for this loss. Deliberate removal of dead wood from woodlands, parks and gardens through burning, chipping and also grinding out stumps after trees have been felled has removed a vital component that these beetles need to be able to breed. The beetle larvae take several years to fully develop within dead and decaying hardwood below ground level, before finally emerging as adults.
Stag beetles face other assaults particularly in urban areas, from traffic, feet, cats, foxes, crows, magpies and other predators which may have an adverse impact at the most vulnerable stage in their life cycle when adults are seeking to mate and lay eggs for the next generation.
The perception that these are ‘creepy-crawlies’ and a potential pest may also be a factor contributing to their decline through persecution and intentional destruction. They do not bite and they do not sting and the male’s large antlers are only used against other male beetles and pose little threat to human beings. Adults only live for a very short time and their large size and haphazard flight pattern often causes alarm as they are not too agile in the air.
What’s happening to stag beetles around Maidenhead?
Many of us are lucky enough to see stag beetles in Maidenhead. We don't know how the local population is faring, but hopefully we will begin to gather sightings data from Wild Maidenhead members and supporters.
How can I help?
Stag beetles need dead wood, so you can help stag beetles easily, either by leaving dead wood where it is or adding a dead wood 'loggery' in a shaded area of your garden (made from hardwood, not softwood, conifer wood or treated timber). Try to avoid the unnecessary destruction or removal of dead wood during gardening or management operations on public or landowner sites. Ideally, retain any dead wood on site using logs and stumps in large pieces, the larger the better. Some of this needs to be in shade to avoid the wood drying out.
Leave windblown trees in place, except where they pose a safety problem. Make sure that most of the dead wood is lying on or close to the ground. Ensure that a buffer zone is managed around large dead wood so that the soil and vegetation is protected as much as possible from disturbance. Ideally this area should not be cut between May and September. Avoid stump-grinding tree stumps wherever possible.
Check garden ponds and water butts during the adult flying season (May to July) because beetles often fall in and cannot swim.
Try and prevent cats and other predators from attacking the adults during the flying season when possible too.
A stag beetle loggery (photo from PTES)