Shifting Sands

Field wormwood (c) Dave Dines

From 2018 for  three years we have been searching for the rare Wormwood moonshiner beetle (Amara fusca), a specialist of the Brecks (Norfolk/Suffolk border in the Thetford area)  which lives up to its name y being most commonly found at night-time, on the equally rare Field wormwood plant! Working with volunteers under cover of darkness and torchlight, Field wormwood plants were searched for as part of the Back from the Brink Shifting Sands project.

Surveys September 2020 produced some truly fantastic results, with a UK record of 219 individual Wormwood moonshiners counted on one evening on their current stronghold on a County Wildlife Site in a Mildenhall housing estate. This population was unknown until the last few years, when Field wormwood plants were discovered, but the site is now being better managed, with the knock-on effect of the beetle thriving.

Fascinatingly, we also discovered that a third of these beetles were feeding on nearby Yarrow plants! The beetles have been found on Yarrow in the past, but never in such numbers, which suggests that although Field wormwood might be their favoured plant, they will happily feed on Yarrow while the wormwood seed ripens. Excitingly, we also built on the success of re-discovering the Wormwood moonshiner on the verges of an industrial estate in Brandon, adjacent to the postage stamp sized industrial estate SSSI that was once the stronghold but has since deteriorated.

Thanks to the Shifting Sands project, this is being better managed and the verges in the estate are now a County Wildlife Site with reduced mowing. This year an impressive 26 Wormwood moonshiners were found, with 21 of them again on Yarrow scattered around the estate. We have yet to re-find the beetle on the SSSI itself, but it is clear that the beetle is bouncing back, with local businesses welcoming the benefits to bugs and plants of simply letting their verges grow!

The future is most certainly looking brighter for one of our most threatened beetles.

Amara fusca (c) Brian Eversham

The Shifting Sands Back From The Brink project is a Re-Think nature partnership project supported by the Lottery Heritage Fund, The People’s Postcode Lottery and several other funders.

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