Teme Valley Musings, October 2021

by Stephanie Mocroft

Worcestershire has long been known for its fruit-growing; apples, pears, plums, damsons, cherries and blackcurrants all thrive in the moderate climate and fertile soil of our county. Here is a traveller looking down from Broadway Hill in the late eighteenth century, “I well remember standing some time to gaze over the rich country below. The day was fine and the Vale of Evesham lay below me spread out like a map, the fruit trees and hedges being whitened with the finest blossom that ever was known.” The traveller was England’s “Father of Geology”, William Smith.

Today, orchards are far fewer. Apples are still produced commercially for cider-makers and cherries are now grown inside poly-tunnels, but pears and traditional stone-fruit are no longer economical to produce. Many old orchards still hang on though, untended and unpruned, sometimes grazed by horses. Some are notable for their festoons of mistletoe, others for nurturing lesser-known creatures. Their past-their-prime trees provide a home for one of these, a rare beetle called the noble chafer. Although once present in Kent and Devon, it is now only to be found in the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, in the dead wood of old orchards.

One of Worcestershire’s veteran naturalists, Harry Green, has long been fascinated by these insects and has pioneered projects to identify likely sites where they might live, encouraged volunteers to look for evidence of them inside decaying trees and toured the county to spot adult beetles during their short flight time between July and August. This year he has been testing a new pheromone trap in the Teme Valley to try and attract these otherwise rather elusive insects.

I’m pleased to report that, loaned to the TVWG, the trap has found four beetles, all safely released I hasten to add, and that I have seen one for the first time, in my own orchard. That I’d never spotted one before surprised me as it’s a big beetle, the size of the end of my thumb, and an iridescent green to boot. Their life-cycle perhaps explains why. The adults live just 4-6 weeks, during which time they mate and lay eggs in decaying fruit-tree wood. The developing larvae munch through rotting wood for 2 years then take flight as adult beetles. They sometimes visit hogweed flowers where you might be lucky enough to spot one.To help them, if you’ve an old fruit tree then let it quietly moulder to give ahome to these odd characters. They might be unseen, but they are definitely still around.

Despite the lifting of legally-binding coronavirus restrictions the Teme Valley Wildlife Group is experiencing challenges in arranging meetings in our familiar format. Our speaker secretary is working very hard to adapt our programme because some speakers have become unable or reluctant to come and deliver a talk in person. We hope that we will soonbe able to offer meetings where we can meet not only the speaker, but one another too. As this is proving tricky at the moment, thank you TVWG members and friends for all your on-going support.