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British beetles missing, presumed extinct

21 June 2006

Around 250 of the UK's 4000 species of beetle haven't been seen in the wild since 1970 and could be under threat of extinction.

Conservation charity, Buglife , says many of these beetles may already be extinct and that more should be done to protect habitats for these important creatures.

Priority beetles

The UK government released its report on the first 10 years of its Biodiversity Action Plan this week. The list of priority species for conservation action includes 87 beetles. However, four of these beetles have now disappeared.

'We are in a global extinction event,' said Matt Shardlow, Buglife director. 'During National Insect Week we should remind ourselves not only that the threat of extinction hangs over many of our native insects, but also that studying and understanding the ecology and distribution of these animals is essential to maintaining a healthy environment'.

Crucial

Beetles carry out many crucial roles in nature such as pollinating flowers and recycling dead wood, dung and the bodies of dead animals. Small changes in a beetle's habitat can result in extinction for the beetle and for other animals that prey on beetles.

'All of the terrestrial ecosystems would collapse if you removed the beetle,' said Max Barclay, beetle expert at the Natural History Museum. 'Beetles are fundamental to most of the land environments on earth'.

Dung down under

An example of how important beetles are can be found in Australia. From the late 1700s Australian dung beetles struggled to cope with recycling the dung from sheep and cattle being imported into Australia at that time. The Australian dung beetles were only suited to munching kangaroo dung. The growing numbers of flies enjoying the dung also helped to spread diseases. Dung beetles from Europe and Africa were eventually introduced to clear up the mess.

Biodiversity boost

There are some positive outcomes from the Biodiversity Action Plan. The number of threatened corncrake has doubled since 1993. There are also 42 percent more Lesser horseshoe bats in Wales and 39 percent more in south west England since 1998. 

'Apart from being something that we value in its own right, biodiversity is a vital part of our natural support system,' said UK Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner.

'It helps to regulate climate and provides other benefits that contribute to people's health, prosperity, and enjoyment of the natural environment.'