Tansy champions meet wildlife hero

Wednesday 16th November 2016

Buglife Vice President Steve Backshall took time out ahead of his show in York to chat with local kids about their involvement with the jewel of York the Tansy beetle.  A group from 1st Clifton Sea Scouts Cubs and Beavers chatted with Steve back stage during the interval of his show.

Tansy beetle officer Julia Smith has given talks to the group on the Tansy beetle as part of the Tansy Beetle Champions project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Ernest Cook Trust),  which led to the group growing Tansy plants on from seed. Then in late summer the group went out by the Ouse and planted these new plants out along the river hopefully securing the future of this talismatic York beetle.

Julia Smith commented. “The Clifton group have been a tremendous support to our Tansy beetle project and it was a fitting reward that they got back stage to have a chat with Steve Backshall hopefully it will inspire them to keep up the good work for conservation that has thankfully seen a marked increase Tansy beetle population in the past few years.”

The kids were joined backstage by Tanis the giant Tansy beetle model, a little larger than the real thing that is about the size of a ladybird.

Tansy beetles (Chrysolina graminis) are a specialist herbivore mainly eating Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and complete their entire life cycle on and around the plant, beside riverbanks or in wetlands. Adult Tansy beetles are active around the tops of Tansy plants from April until June where they feed, mate, and lay eggs. They will be most obvious on warm, sunny days, and the female Tansy beetle is generally larger –bodied than the male. The eggs hatch between May and July into Larvae, which feed hungrily on Tansy leaves. The larvae eventually burrow underground at the base of the tansy plants the pupae hatch in mid-July and can be seen on Tansy plants until September. They burrow underground and spend the winter there until emerging as adults in April.

The Tansy beetle was once widespread in Britain, but it is currently endangered. As the beetles are dependent on Tansy as their sole food source, if a clump disappears the beetles have to walk to a new clump as they are not known to fly. Although Tansy is widespread, unfortunately pressures such as land-use changes and the increase of invasive species such as Himalayan balsam have resulted in a decline in Tansy plants over the past few decades. This has had knock-on effects on Tansy Beetle numbers as beetle populations have become increasingly isolated and can now only be found along a 30km stretch of the banks of the River Ouse, around York and a much smaller population at Woodwalton Fen.