A creature once thought extinct in Britain has been living in deep cover in Welsh Woods

Monday 23rd February 2015

The Blue ground beetle, Carabus intricatus, a creature so rare that it was thought to be extinct in the UK until one was discovered in Dartmoor in 1994, has been found in Coed Maesmelin, in Skewen near Neath, a wood in the care of the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw).

The Blue ground beetle is an impressive beast, a large beetle with a metallic purple blue sheen. It is the UK’s largest ground beetle and can grow to 28mm, nearly one and a half inches.  It favours moist  ancient woodlands of oak or beech, where it feasts on a diet of slugs. Besides Coed Maesmelin, it is known to live only in a handful of sites in the UK, all in Devon and Cornwall.

The search for this rare and elusive insect was triggered in April 2012, when Lee Beynon, a Skewen resident contacted the charity Buglife, saying he thought he had found the rare Blue ground beetle in his garage!  Discussions ensued, and following some initial surveys by Buglife in nearby Coed Maesmelin, Natural Resources Wales agreed to fund a search for the creature.  In January this year a population of the Blue ground beetle was confirmed in this wood by entomologists John Walters and Dave Boyce. It appears that the beetle found in the garage had been washed down the hill by torrential rains, and, bizarrely Lee Beynon has found another 6 in his garage and garden since the initial one.

Andrew Whitehouse Buglife’s Wales Manager says: “The blue ground beetle is an incredible looking insect! Finding  a population at Coed Maesmelin is a significant addition to Wales’ wildlife riches. It is amazing that this beetle has been living here for such a long time without being discovered. There are a few pieces of ancient woodland in the Skewen area, but Coed Maesmelin is one of handful that have not been replanted with non-native trees. If this had happened, the local population could have been lost, as this creature needs a continuity of habitat, ancient trees with thick moss growth.”

Chris Matts, who manages Coed Maesmelin for the Woodland Trust adds: “Ancient woodland that has survived over the centuries, often since the last Ice Age, is a rare and incredibly precious habitat. This amazing beetle is just one example of what makes it special. That’s why it’s so important that these woods are protected and, where necessary, gradually restored. If the canopy cover of an ancient woodland is suddenly removed, the very special habitat that this beetle needs is lost. It’s almost by chance that Maesmelin hasn’t been planted with conifers or clear-felled in the past.“

Adrian Fowles, Senior Invertebrate Ecologist at Natural Resources Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are an important habitat for a wide variety of species here in Wales, like the rare Blue ground beetle. We fund this kind of work to improve our understanding of our rarest species and how best to conserve them and the habitats they live in.”