Glowing, glowing, gone?

The Plight of the Glow-worm in Essex

Gardiner, T.

British Naturalists’ Association & Tim Gardiner, 2011


This book describes in detail, a thorough on-going scientific survey of the glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca undertaken by volunteers and members of the public in Essex since 2001. This survey clearly establishes a method of glow-worm survey that could easily be applied across the UK and provides a very detailed baseline for anybody considering conducting a similar survey elsewhere. Although a reasonable degree of scientific background is required to handle the statistical analysis of some of the results, the methods described should be straight forward for the layman to replicate. In the early chapters there is a very useful background to the situation with regard to the historical distribution and status of the glow-worm in Essex. There are also some amusing references; I couldn’t help myself but to chuckle at the vision of a glow-worm deciding to use the rear of a pig’s ear as a platform for its display!

I was interested in the results of the Essex glow-worm survey so far. It would appear that along with at least 95% of native species (plant or animal) in the UK the glow-worm is another species intolerant of the intensively managed modern urban and agricultural landscapes. This fact is reflected in the significant historical declines in sites and numbers of this insect in Essex. Overall the findings in relation to micro-habitat requirements, meteorological conditions and phenology appear to follow those of my own more casual observations in Hampshire.

I was particularly interested in reading that there have been at least two apparently successful translocations of glow-worms in England. In each case these translocations were very much ‘last resort’ options and are described in detail in Chapter 6. One was a summer larval translocation in Essex and the other was a turf translocation of glow-worm habitat that took place in November near Tewkesbury. Also in Chapter 6 there is an assessment of the status of the glow-worm in relation to planning law. Unfortunately this species is not yet legally protected but it clearly benefits from an unusually high public profile.

It was very sad to read of the estimate of a 74% decline in glow-worm numbers in Essex even within the 10-year span of the survey. Certainly my own observations in Hampshire back up the Essex findings with regard to numbers. It is usual in Hampshire, especially on the New Forest sites, not to see more than two or three at a time and even on the more suitable chalk hills of Hampshire I have only seen more than about 20 on two occasions in the last 25 years. Also there are apparently suitable places in Hampshire where glow-worms are completely absent. Let’s hope the author’s rather optimistic assessment of the future of the glow-worm in Essex proves correct in this county as well as elsewhere in Britain.

Philip Budd, Southampton, 29 April 2012