The grass was filthy with mud at least 20 feet above the normal level of the river Ouse at Beningborough this last weekend. But luckily, Yorkshire‘s sturdy little beetle ark had already left for a safe haven.
On board, shortly before the last of May’s unseasonal rains sent the river ripping through their fragile habitat, was a party of 25 vivid green Tansy Beetles which are only found on 26 miles of river bank in this part of the UK.
Back in November, the Guardian Northerner reported on their plight and the plan hatched by the local Askham Bryan horticultural and farming college with the Tansy Beetle Action Group or T-Bag as they call themselves cheerily). Between them, they spent the winter completing a temporary habitat for the refugees at the college, which overlooks Britain’s first dual carriageway between Tadcaster and York.
This involved seeding and planting tansy, which is the beetle’s only foodplant, and recreating the riparian surroundings as faithfully as possible. Nobody is certain why the beetles are so choosy about confining themselves to one stretch of the Ouse between Beningborough and Selby. But that’s what they do; and so the ark is a as close to the real place as its builders have been able to manage.
The 25 beetles were collected from the river frontage of Beningborough Hall, the handsome Georgian house now in the care of the National Trust. Beetles apart, it makes an excellent summer visit, especially if you reach it via the creaky old toll bridge at Aldwark (40p for a car, walkers free).
Dr Deirdre Rooney, lecturer in countryside management at Askham Bryan, says:
The beetles have settled in well and I have already found eggs on the tansy in the ark so the initial signs are good. But we won’t carry out our first monitoring until August when the new generation of adult beetles emerge from pupae. The overall results of the experiment won’t be fully clear until next year.
If it is deemed a success, the ark will be used to top-up Tansy Beetle populations at other sites along the Ouse and possibly to experiment with them more widely. A similar exercise has increased numbers of the rare Sand Lizard in the north west. By coincidence, it is also a ravishing green.
T-Bag has members from North Yorkshire county council, York city council, the Environment Agency, and the University of York, with three years of funding from the SITA Trust. The money covers other work on behalf of the beetle and other animals, including conservation at Rawcliffe Meadows by the Ouse, an area rich in tansies, beetles and other wildlife.
The National Trust at Beningborough Hall is also doing its bit. By chance, Penny chose the circular walk from Beningbrough via the riverbank, hall and excellent Dawnay Arms at Newton-on-Ouse for my birthday treat. Here’s our picture of the NT’s beetle noticeboard at the confluence of the Ouse and Nidd, opposite Nun Monkton Hall. It tells you everything you need to know. Like the Northerner. Askham Bryan is also setting up a blog to report on the beetles’progress, on its website here.