Dressed in appropriate safari kit, five of us met by the Shakinashram in Dod Lane (the former stables of Chalice Hill House) on June 16 and headed up Bushy Coombe towards the Bulwarks Lane orchard. We were looking for the noble beetle, or his grub, or evidence of the presence of either.
This beautiful bright iridescent-green beetle, between a cock chafer and a scarab, about the size of the first joint of your finger, is assumed to be a measure of biodiversity. An expert told me that they don’t live in Somerset any more. If they do, they should be found in rotting old apple trees. Hence our foray.
We found evidence of their grubs’ tunnelling in both the orchards we visited, but no beetle or grub yet. He should be about from June to August, so we will look again.
“The Noble Chafer beetle is generally found in old orchard areas during July and August,” explains Jill Nelson, of People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). “Unfortunately, these types of environment are regularly being destroyed to grow more productive crops. The beetle has been losing its habitat and its numbers have been dwindling for over a century.”
Monitoring exactly where the beetle is found helps to focus conservation efforts appropriately. Most recent records have come from Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, but historically it lived in Cumbria, Kent, Devon, Essex, Hampshire and Oxfordshire. So if you think you have seen one, let PTES know — even better, send a digital photo to email@example.com. And for a colourful postcard to aid identification, send a stamped addressed envelope to PTES, 15 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London, SW8 4BG).
The noble chafer (Gnorimus nobilis) is a beautiful, somewhat globular, greenish, iridescent rare beetle about 2cm long. It is often confused with the rose chafer (Cefonia aurafa), but has wrinkled wing cases, unlike the smooth ones of the rose chafer. The noble chafer also has pale flecks on both its wing cases and thorax and a distinct indentation between the thorax and wing cases.
Noble chafers feed on nectar from open-structured flowers such as hogweed, on sunny days in July and August. Their grubs (white, C-shaped, up to 3cm long) live in rotten wood in the central hollows of decaying fruit trees in traditional orchards, where they take two years to develop into adult beetles. Most telling would be the presence of faecal pellets (called frass), which collect like fine gravel, and can last for several years if sheltered from rain.
The weather was warm, and the sounds of the Pilgrimage singing wafted up from the Abbey grounds, so our very unscientific fieldwork in a quiet old orchard on a Somerset hillside was fulfilling if not productive. “Beetle II” takes place on Saturday August 11.
Chalice Well tour
15 members took up the kind invitation from Chalice Well of a guided walk around the gardens on May 17, led by the chief gardener, Ark Redwood, and aided by Anthony Ward and Michelle Macauly-Haines.
We spent two hours being shown the layout of the gardens, ponds and, of course, the well itself. Ark’s enthusiasm was infectious. To end the enjoyable evening, we strolled through one of the Chalice Well orchards, which our society helped to plant.
Thanks to our hosts and hostess for a very pleasant evening.