Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis) © Peadar O’Connell

Buglife launches Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt for 2024 as part of the Species on the Edge programme

Buglife’s citizen science project, the Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt, needs your help. As part of the partnership programme, Species on the Edge, members of the public are asked to look out for these amazing beetles and record any sightings.

Scottish records of oil beetles on iRecord more than doubled last year due to the combined effort of the Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt and surveying carried out by the Species on the Edge team. Survey work for Short-necked Oil Beetle in particular yielded over 100 records of individual beetles, with many new sites discovered for the species. The Black Oil Beetle was also confirmed from Scotland, following doubt about previous records due to issues with misidentification.

In 2023, Short-necked Oil Beetle were found on Tiree for the first time by Ranger Hayley Douglas. Long thought to be present, this discovery is the latest new island site for the species, following on from populations found in North Uist in 2022, and Barra and Islay in 2021.

Species on the Edge is an ambitious four-year programme for species recovery in Scotland that aims to take action for 37 declining and threatened species across Scotland’s coasts and islands. It is a partnership programme of eight organisations, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The partnership consists of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, NatureScot, Plantlife and RSPB Scotland.

One of these threatened species is the Short-necked Oil Beetle, which has only been found in a handful of locations within Scotland – the Isles of Coll, Islay and Tiree (Inner Hebrides), as well as Uist and Barra (Outer Hebrides). Classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species is at high risk of extinction and therefore it’s imperative that we learn more about this amazing beetle to help improve its fortunes.

Oil beetles are eye-catching, charismatic beetles that are so-called because they exude a yellowish oily substance from their leg joints when threatened. They have been described as looking like they’re wearing an ill-fitting waistcoat; the ‘waistcoat’ being the short wing cases that do not fully cover the beetle’s abdomen.

Oil beetles are under threat. Populations have declined due to the loss of flower-rich habitats owing to changes in countryside management. As oil beetles are nest parasites of solitary bees, declines in populations of wild bees has worsened their fortunes further as they depend on them for survival. Scotland has fewer oil beetle records than both England and Wales, so it’s possible that oil beetles are under recorded in Scotland. To get a better understanding of their current distribution in Scotland, it’s important we keep a look at and hear about all sightings of oil beetles.

Sally Morris, Buglife Conservation Officer, explains: “Last year was great for oil beetles in Scotland, but we’re still far behind England and Wales for records – it’s time we catch up! Have you ever seen a shiny black beetle that may be an oil beetle? Please send us a photo and help us to learn more about these amazing beetles within Scotland.”

Oil beetles have an amazing life cycle, intricately linked to that of solitary bees. After hatching, oil beetle larvae (known as triungulins) make their way onto a flower head where they lie in wait for a solitary bee. Using specialised hooks on their feet, they attach themselves to the back of a visiting female bee and when the bee returns to its underground nest, the triungulin disembarks and continues its development underground, eating through the bee’s stores of pollen and nectar. Depending on species, they then emerge in the same or following year, as an adult oil beetle ready to start the life cycle all over again.

There are five species of oil beetle in the UK, only three are found in Scotland, these are the Black Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus), Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus) and Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis). They are large, shiny black beetles, often with a slight blue or green tinge to their colouring that can be seen in wildflower-rich grasslands, heathland, and coastal areas from March to June. They are often seen crossing footpaths due to the availability of compact bare ground in which they can burrow.

This survey is in partnership with the National Oil Beetle Recording scheme, launched in 2021. This scheme was established to help us understand more about oil beetle abundance, distribution and ecology in the UK. No prior knowledge is needed to take part, anyone and everyone is encouraged to submit records using the iRecord app (with multiple photos if possible), or to send in details via email. Please let us know what you find on social media using the hashtag #OilBeetleHunt!

More details can be found at the link below: Oil Beetle Recording Scheme | UK Beetle Recording (coleoptera.org.uk)

Buglife welcomes any records, however they are particularly interested in records from Argyll and the Hebrides as these are the locations where Short-necked Oil Beetles are most likely to be found.

The Species on the Edge programme is also asking for volunteers to help search for Short-necked Oil Beetles in likely locations in the Hebrides. If you have a spare couple of hours from April – June and want to search for this amazing beetle in sand dunes and machair grassland near you, please contact scotland@buglife.org.uk. All training and support are provided, and no experience is necessary.

Thanks to National Lottery players, Species on the Edge is supporting conservation work and engaging with local communities around the coast and islands of Scotland. For more information on how to get involved in other Species on the Edge work please contact our Conservation Team via scotland@buglife.org.uk.


Read the latest news from the Seahorse Trust here>> Seahorse Trust Spring-2024

Wildlife at risk on farms as vital hedge and river rules vanish

The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts say rivers and hedgerows are at increasing risk as UK Government fails to enshrine basic protection for nature on farms

Wildlife is under even more pressure than ever as basic rules which protect hedgerows and stop farmers from causing excessive river pollution ended on 31st December 2023. The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts are calling for immediate action to fill the gaps left by these vital protections.

Basic regulations known as ‘cross compliance’ had to be followed by farmers in order to receive rural payments between 2005 and 2023. The rules included not farming the land right up to the edge of rivers to ensure farm pollution and soil was not washed into the water – as well as protecting hedgerows and maintaining green cover on soils.

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the UK Government announced these rules would cease to exist after 31st December 2023 and be replaced by new UK ones. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not confirmed if protections for nature will be maintained – and the absence of rules means that farmers are free to cut hedges in the spring and summer which risks harming nesting birds. It could also mean that more farm pollution and soil is washed into rivers which are already under huge pressure from excessive nutrients caused by manure, soil and other pollutants.

Rosie Hails, Nature and Science Director at the National Trust says:

“Ending Cross Compliance rules without sufficient replacement provisions places nature, water courses and historic hedgerows at increased risk. This is because some farmers may choose to withdraw from important practices such as providing buffers around watercourses, maintaining soil organic matter or taking action to minimise soil erosion. Farmers might also decide to trim hedges later in the spring and earlier in the autumn with impacts for birds and other wildlife.

“For the benefit of nature and to give farmers clarity, it’s vital that that Defra addresses this regulatory gap with urgency as well as ensuring farmers are better able to access to the right advice, helping them adopt practices that best protect the environment while maximising opportunities through nature-friendly farming.”

Alice Groom, Head of Sustainable Land Use Policy at RSPB England, says:

‘’In just the last five years, farmland bird species have declined by 8%, but loss of protections for hedgerows now means cutting can take place during this year’s nesting season. This could have a catastrophic impact upon iconic farmland species such as Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting and Turtle Dove. Species already pushed to the brink urgently need these gaps in protections to be filled, and monitoring and enforcement to be stepped up.

“For nearly twenty years, farmers and land managers have applied the basic good practices of cross compliance. Whilst it is right that the Westminster Government is switching from direct payments to a public money for public goods approach, this transition must be underpinned by effective regulations to protect the environment. The end of this long-standing regulatory baseline has created new gaps in protections for our watercourses, hedgerows and soils. Government’s failure to set out a plan for a new regulatory baseline sows confusion for farmers about their obligations, and creates an uneven playing field for those who continue to do the right thing for the environment.’’

Barnaby Coupe, Land Use Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The situation is desperate. The UK Government has ripped up important rules that help protect hedgerows and require buffer strips to prevent river pollution. This danger is compounded by low levels of uptake into new farming schemes which incentivise only the most basic green practices on farm, leaving nature at a net loss.”

“The Environment Improvement Plan published just this year stated “This government is committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it” – but this promise rings hollow now that safeguards against damaging farming practices have vanished. We need to see a firm commitment from Government that protections for nature will be at the very least maintained this year at the same level as the old regulations.”

In a response about a regulatory gap in August 2023, Defra stated that ‘‘the majority of rules under cross compliance are already in domestic law’’. However, the removal of cross compliance from 1st January 2024 leaves regulatory gaps across hedgerows, soil cover and watercourse buffer strips that are not covered by existing regulation.

Defra issued a consultation on hedgerows in 2023, but delays in the Government’s response mean that regulatory gaps between January 1st and the bringing in of new protections are now inevitable. There are over 400,000km of hedgerows in England alone, which is still around 50% less than there were in the 70 years ago. A report by the RSPB, Mind the Gap, found that even with high uptake of new farming schemes, over 120,000km of hedgerows could be at risk from damaging practices due to the removal of cross compliance.

The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB urge the UK Government to uphold protections for nature while providing much better support for farmers to take a ‘whole farm’ approach to nature-friendly farming through new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, rather than simply receiving payments for one-off actions with isolated benefits for wildlife. Critical to this is increasing support for farmers to access independent advice for the best actions to take on their farm.

Park Authority welcomes licence decision, bringing beavers back to the Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has welcomed the announcement from NatureScot, approving the organisation’s licence application to translocate Eurasian beavers to the Upper Spey catchment in the National Park, with the first three sites receiving beavers in the coming weeks and months.

Beavers are a keystone species, with the potential to help tackle the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. This will be the first out of range translocation in Scotland and will make a significant contribution to the delivery of the Scottish Beaver Strategy.

The Park Authority, working with a range of partners and landowners, submitted the licence application in October, following extensive consultation with the agricultural community, fishing interests, the public and other key stakeholders.

Photo: Eliot McCandless, Beaver Trust

The translocation licence from NatureScot allows for up to six beaver families to be released in the Upper Spey catchment in the first year. The first three release sites are on land owned by Rothiemurchus Estate, Wildland Scotland and the RSPB.

Sandy Bremner, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority said: “We are pleased that NatureScot has granted the licence, allowing for the translocation of beavers to the Upper Spey catchment. This is a significant moment in the history of the National Park, with the licence allowing us to return beavers to the area after an absence of 400 years.

“I want to thank the Park Authority staff and everyone who has helped us reach this point. I am especially grateful to the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, the Spey Fishery Board, RSPB and NatureScot who have been with us since the very first Cairngorms Beaver Group meeting back in 2017 – and to all those who have expressed concerns and worked with us to shape further mitigation measures.”

Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority added: “This is a milestone moment and we’re grateful to over 500 people who took part in our public consultation. As an organisation we are mindful that whilst the majority of respondents were supportive there remains some concerns about the impacts from beavers on some farms in the area. We have listened carefully to those concerns and adjusted our approach to provide further reassurance to the farming community, with that dialogue continuing. We have effective mitigation measures in place with the work being led by the Park Authority Beaver Officer, who can react quickly to minimise any negative impacts.

“Beavers will provide many positive benefits for the area both environmentally and economically but as the applicant we need to work to maximise the benefits whilst managing any impacts.”

The beavers will come from the Tay catchment having been humanely trapped before undergoing veterinary health screening. Once healthy pairs and families are available for translocation, they will be brought to the Cairngorms National Park and released in locations that have been identified as highly suitable and where the local landowner has been keen to welcome them. The sites chosen have also been carefully considered for their suitability from both a beaver and human standpoint.

Dr Roison Campbell-Palmer of the Beaver Trust explained: “We are delighted NatureScot have approved the licence to release beavers into the National Park. Actively expanding the beaver population into appropriate areas is an important step towards realising the vision of Scotland’s National Beaver Strategy.

“Having carried out detailed modelling of the Spey catchment with the University of Exeter, we are confident beavers will thrive here due to the abundance of suitable habitat. This project has been exemplary, with well-planned local engagement, carried out by an exceptional team, which we’re proud to have contributed to.”

Ollie Mackay, Head Ranger, Rothiemurchus Estate said: “We look forward to supporting the Scottish Government in its strategy to bring back beavers to the Cairngorms. Rothiemurchus is excited to be selected by the Cairngorms National Park Authority as one of the initial reintroduction sites for this project. We are working with the Park Authority on providing visitors with information on being in the vicinity of beavers without disturbing them.”   

Tim Kirkwood, Chief Executive of Wildland Limited commented: “Wildland Limited continues to be committed to habitat rehabilitation on a landscape scale. Beaver are a keystone species in ecosystem regeneration and we are pleased to support the Park Authority in this project. We look forward to the progress being monitored and future stories of success.”

Karen Birkby, the Site Manager at RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes nature reserve, said: “We are very pleased that a licence to move beavers into the Cairngorms National Park has been granted allowing us to be one of the three initial release sites. The return of beavers should ultimately help us achieve our long-term vision for Insh Marshes – to improve the functioning of the river Spey and its floodplain for nature and people. We look forward to welcoming beavers back to Insh Marshes at some point next year – they will bring many benefits to other wildlife and naturally adapt the nature reserve in ways we could never hope to replicate.”

Availability of beavers and weather conditions depending, the first families are expected to be released in the Cairngorms National Park very soon.

For more information please visit the Cairngorms National Park website: https://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/cairngorms-nature/priority-species/beaver/

To learn more about the licencing process, please go the NatureScot website: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/protected-areas-and-species/licensing/species-licensing-z-guide/beavers-and-licensing