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Threatened black oil beetle species found at Elmley reserve at Eastchurch on Sheppey

By Lewis Dyson

An endangered species of beetle, which has an extraordinary life cycle, has been found on an RSPB reserve in Eastchurch.

The black oil beetle has been in steep decline due to changes in countryside management and is the subject of a recovery programme to try and increase numbers.

The insects rely on solitary bees to complete their life cycle as its larvae hitch rides on their backs into their nests where they feed on their eggs, pollen and nectar.

The black oil beetle has been found on a nature reserve in Eastchurch

Specimens were discovered on May 23 at Great Bells Farm on Eastchurch Marshes, to the east of Elmley National Nature Reserve and south of HMP Elmley.

The 193 hectare site is being developed as a grazing spot for birds but is also uniquely placed in the county as a habitat for water voles and beetles.

Site manager Julian Nash said: “We are really excited to find this beetle at Great Bells.

“They are a barometer of the health of the countryside, so it is really encouraging for us to find one at this new reserve.

“This winter we have had thousands of migratory birds and this spring large numbers of breeding lapwing and redshank which would not have been here without the restoration.

“It is great that we are also attracting important invertebrates, it’s really good for the overall biodiversity of Great Bells. The restoration has also been good for wildlife, particularly water voles.”

Adult black, violet and short-necked oil beetles are active in the spring, while adult rugged and Mediterranean oil beetles can be found in the autumn, winter and early spring.

The reserve was created by the Environment Agency in late 2012 to compensate for coastal land lost through the building of tidal and sea defences from the Medway Estuary up to, but not including, Whitstable.

Land at Great Bells before it was converted into wetland

At the moment there is no public access so that the ecology has a chance to settle, but the aim is to open it up at a later date.

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