Happy landing for jumping beetle

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The Independent Online
RICHARD SMITH

English Nature is set to spend pounds 15,000 planting 300 trees to help save a rare jumping beetle from extinction in Britain.

The money will be used to preserve a Midlands beauty spot which inspired a poem by A E Housman, thereby making it a safe haven for the violet click beetle.

Experts fear that unless such action is taken, the tiny creature will eventually be wiped out on Bredon Hill in Hereford and Worcester - one of its two remaining breeding sites in England.

Until now the beetle has found an ideal home among the ancient ash, field maple, beach and oak trees growing on Bredon's hillside scrub and chalk grassland which has remained unploughed for centuries. But the beetle's lifeline - the next generation of mature open woodland - is almost non- existent. Many of the trees were old even at the end of the last century, when in Bredon Hill Housman wrote:

In summertime on Bredon

The bells they sound so clear; Round both the shires they ring them

In steeples far and near,

A happy noise to hear

Dr Peter Holmes, English Nature's conservation officer for the region, said: "The violet click beetle is so rare that we know little about its lifestyle and the adult has only been seen five or six times. But it seems to live in a soup-like mixture where birds have nested, squirrels have died and fungus grows in hollow trees with leaf litter.

"So much modern woodland is too dense for these invertebrates, but Bredon Hill has been tree-covered for centuries and the landscape profile is the nearest thing we have to an ancient woodland habitat.

"There is also hawthorn on the hill, which provides nectar for these rare species to feed on and a place to meet and mate when they come out of the dead wood in spring.

"But the lack of young trees means the violet click beetle would certainly disappear from Bredon if it was not for the action we are taking now. They would only survive as long as the current generation of veteran ash."

Most of 380-hectare Bredon Hill is privately owned and English Nature has been working closely with farmers who use it for grazing cattle and sheep. Some ash are being pollarded to hasten maturity and violet click beetle larvae has been found on 17 trees.

Altogether 67 scarce species of beetles, including the rare blood red ampedus rufipennis, have been found on the hillside.

The violet click beetle owes its name to the sound made by a spring-like appendage which enables it to leap a foot high and escape from predators.

The European Union lists the half-inch-long beetle - which is also found in Windsor Great Park - on a directive naming scarce species which are cause for international concern.

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