Have you seen an Oil beetle?

Violet Oil beetle – Meloe violaceus.

violaceus Meloe

If you have seen one of these fascinating beetles then please help Buglife’s national survey of them.

At one time the UK used to have 9 species, but now there are only believed to be 4, the Black oil beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus), the Violet oil beetle (Meloe violaceus), the Short-necked oil beetle (Meloe brevicollis) and the Rugged oil beetle (Meloe rugusus).

These are fairly large beetles that can be up to 40mm long and can be seen anytime between April and August. The female lays hundreds of eggs in the soil close to a solitary bee nest. The eggs can take a year to hatch upon which the larvae climb plants, such as Lesser celandine, to wait for a visiting bee whereupon they hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest where they spend the rest of their development feeding upon bee eggs and pollen. Linked as they are to declining bee species this is one fear as to causes for the decline of all oil beetles.

Its vital this survey is undertaken as only 3 of the 4 species listed have been seen recently and these are all declining. The Short-necked oil beetle (seen below) was thought to have been extinct in Britain since 1948 till it was seen in 2007 at Wembury in South Devon, and that place on this very day is where the new survey is being launched. If you want to take part go to the following link to register. My thanks to John Walters for these fantastic photos.

Double whammy

Hi, we in the Teign valley are just coming to the end of our annual round of tree planting. 2,410 trees planted, 90 to go.
Last week we were helped in no small way by two groups, one new to us, the other old friends.

The first group were from advertising company JC Deceaux, and if you are anything like me you will say-never heard of them! However next time you are in an Airport, trainstation or supermarket look at the big advertising boards dotted around and you will soon realise that they are (or should be) a household name.
JC Deceaux

13 willing volunteers got stuck in for the day and planted…wait for it… 500 trees! thats a new record for any of our groups.
They were joined on the day by our friends the Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation group (STOC) They planted hundreds more trees and left us with a paltry few trees which we will be planting this week with the Okehampton scouts and a group from Exeter college. Many thanks to all who took part and if you or a company that you know of want to get involved then get in touch on 01647 433356.
Planting trees

Introducing…Nick Baker

Wotcha, I’m Nick Baker; In case you think you’ve seem me before, I’ll put you out of your misery. I’m the Wildlife chap, best known for my broadcast work, on TV, Radio and in the written media. So what you may ask am I doing working for the National Trust? Well it is a good question, my wife puts it down to a mid-life crisis but I of course have other reasons and motive.

I’ve just taken on the post as seasonal part time ranger here at the Teign Valley property on Dartmoor; although best known for the imposing pile of granite we all know and love as castle Drogo, for me the attraction is Whiddon Deer park and the hanging Oak woodlands and heathlands that make up the Teign gorge. I live locally and this property and me go ways back.

Nick BakerIt started for me over 18 years ago; The Highbrown Fritillary was my first reason to visit the slope below the castle, sadly it no longer flies here, but if it does well elsewhere at other sites in the valley we live in hope that it will return, the NT are still working to keep the door open for them to return and still maintain habitat that is suitable; a subtle mix of Bracken and Dog Violets. It was also my ‘back yard’ when I first moved to the area and lived at Sandy park, I was on the dole then and the inspirational woodlands kept me happy and I like to think gave me the right attitude to life; and maybe even was responsible in a little way, getting me in the right frame of mind for the career that then unfolded. I even filmed several pieces for the Really Wild Show in the Teign valley itself.

I had always had a soft spot, for a particular location, and the soft centred, romantic part of me used to think what a great place it would be to get married. The place I refer to is an avenue of Beech trees here they form a natural leafy cathedral, framing the gateway to the deer park and a pair of granite sculptures by local artist Peter Randall-page. In 2009 I’m pleased to say I finally realised the fantasy one sunny May’s morning and a gathering of friends and relatives joined me and my wife (Ceri) as we tied the knot amongst the Blue bells and the beneath the fresh green canopy. The link with this magical place continues to this day, not only is it a regular place for walks with the family, I harvest the Sloes and Crab apples for Jam, Jelly and Gin and we even filmed my favourite tree for the BBC’s Autumn Watch here last year.
Anyhow now it’s a slightly weird but fine thing that I have joined the team responsible for the management and maintenance of this wonderful place. I figured it makes sense after so long appreciating the end product, to actually get down to the nitty gritty. I wanted to understand and learn about the tasks and skills required to maintain the countryside and of course try and get the message across to people that the NT is so much more than ‘Cream Teas and Country Houses’; although of course it is very good at those too.

So far it’s been a bit of a baptism of fire – I’m currently learning all about Chainsaws and how to use them and I’m worrying myself about how I actually enjoy using them! I’ve even been caught surreptitiously looking at some of those websites late at night, you know the ones – Husqvarna and Stihl. I’ve also entered a world where you’re not a man (or indeed a woman) unless you own a nice Billhook. So I’ve got me one of them too, and enjoy polishing it and bringing it into work where we discuss it’s pedigree (It’s a Morris – nice and local from Dunsford b.t.w) all I have to do now is learn how to use it! If my attempt at laying a section of hedge at Parke is anything to go by I’ve got a lot to learn.

This seems to be my lot at the moment, it’s a steep learning curve, but I’m having a blast (even if I can’t reverse a trailer yet or indeed get my hinges straight) I’m looking forward to the ‘bug season’ though where hopefully I can put some of my actual field skills to good use and maybe even share a little with the rest of the team here in the Teign valley.