by David Hance

Because most of the Brede Valley is used for grazing sheep, there is very little pollution of the drainage ditches, as there would be with more fertilizer-dependent arable crops. This ensures a very healthy and diverse beetle population, not only in the actual water, but also in the very important narrow margin alongside the ditches. Here grow marsh woundwort, on which can be found the rare weevil Ceuthorrynchus viduatus, and purple loosestrife, the host plant of Nephanes marmoratus, another weevil, which is about 2mm long and yellow and black in colour.

On the reeds in the water at the edge of the ditches can be seen several of the family Donacia. These are beautifully iridescent beetles about 15 mm long that are known as jewel beetles and well deserve their name, when you see them reflecting their green, gold and purple colours in the sunlight.

This area, along with Romney Marsh and Pevensey Level, is a stronghold of the nationally scarce silver diving beetle Hydrophilus piceus. This is a handsome, dark olive-green beetle up to 45mm long. Fiercely predatory as a larva, it turns into a slow-moving, gentle, algae-grazing adult. It is one of our largest beetles. Almost as large are Dytiscus marginalis, the Great Green Diving beetle, and its relatives, some of which are quite common here. These are quite capable of killing and eating tadpoles and small fish with their fierce-looking sucking jaws.

Conspicuously active on the surface of some of the drainage ditches are the whirligig beetles. Zooming around in groups, rather like tiny aquatic bumper cars, they feed on dead insects, and even dead fish, but quickly dive when disturbed.

Usually found beneath the mats of vegetation which form in the beds of partially dried out ditches, there has been a report of another nationally scarce species, Badister anomolus.

These are a few of the many beetles that are to be found in the relatively unspoilt and unpolluted Brede Valley drainage ditches, which hopefully will manage to survive the ever-increasing pressure that the countryside must endure in this heavily populated corner of the UK.

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