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York St John University supports critical work to protect the city’s Tansy Beetles

Published: 17 August 2023

  •   Featured
  •   Campus & Estates
  •    Community
A hand lifting beetles onto a yellow plant

Sixty of the iridescent ‘Jewel of York’ beetles have been introduced to a specially planted ‘ark’ habitat site at York St John University. The beautiful beetles take their name from the tansy plants that they call home and are prioritised for conservation due to declining populations and flood risks to their current habitats. The record-breaking temperatures of the summer of 2022 depleted their numbers so efforts are being stepped up to ensure their protection.

The UK currently has a successful population on the Great Ouse in York, with a smaller site found in Norfolk and another in Cambridgeshire. For the last few years, staff and students of York St John University have been working with the Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG) to establish a new ‘ark site’ as an insurance population in case of a serious flood on the Ouse.

The site has been specially developed with hundreds of tansy plants cultivated by the University’s grounds team to sustain the rare beetles. The plantation offers the beetles a corridor along the edge of the University’s Haxby Road Sports Park grounds near the River Foss.

The first breeding pairs of beetles were introduced last summer but failed to thrive due to scorching temperatures. Efforts to establish the site are now being increased, with 30 pairs of the endangered species arriving this week.

Dr Geoff Oxford from the Tansy Beetle Action Group said “The beetle is known as the Jewel of York because for a long time it was believed to only be living here. We know it’s been in York for hundreds of years, as an example Victorian beetle enthusiasts used to make special trips to Clifton Ings to source them for their collections.

“Recently discovered small populations in the Fens mean that it’s not classed as critically endangered but conserving the largest population by far is a conservation priority.”

Simon Davis, Gardens & Sports Ground Manager at York St John University said “We started this project at our Sports Campus on Haxby Road in 2017, initially establishing just five clumps of tansy plants. From this we cultivated about 300 plants and planted them out with the help of fantastic community volunteers.

“Today's secondary release of beetles is to try and bolster the numbers of the beetles in York. There isn't an established colony of beetles on the River Foss so the intention of this site is as an ark site above flood levels in case of a catastrophic summer flood wiping out the established population on the Ouse. Even in that worst case scenario, we would hopefully have enough of a population here for the Tansy Beetle Action Group to reestablish them at their original site.”

Julia Dyman, Energy Officer at York St John University said: “We’re really proud to be involved in helping to strengthen tansy beetle populations in the area, not only because they are a part of York’s rich history, but because as a university we believe it’s our duty to serve as environmental stewards in and beyond our community.”

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