A GREAT Stag Hunt is underway in Teignbridge – and it’s got nothing to do with the mighty Monarch of the Glen.

A wildlife charity wants sharp-eyed observers of nature to give them an idea of the local population of stag beetles.

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is calling on the public to help them establish a nationwide picture of how the frightening looking insect is faring.

They are decidedly rare in Devon, with just three sighted in last year’s survey compared with 522 in neighbouring Dorset, with Hampshire beyond recording a phenomenal 1,362.

Anyone spotting them can register the result on www.ptes.org/gsh

Stag-watch volunteers can also take part in the more in-depth European Stag Beetle Monitoring Network.

All they need to do is walk some 500 metres on six occasions between June and July on warm summer evenings to record any stags they see.

More information is available on www.stagbeetlemonitoring.org

Laura Bower, conservation officer at PTES explained: ‘We have been running the Great Stag Hunt, and other conservation initiatives for stag beetles, for over 20 years.

‘Thanks to the thousands of people who have recorded their stag beetle sightings, we now have a really good idea of where stag beetles live, but what we don’t yet know is whether their numbers are going up or down.

‘Now, we want people to go one step further and take part in this European study too, so we can understand how stag beetles are faring on a wider scale.’

Stag beetles are the UK’s largest land beetle with males reaching up to 8cm in length. Despite their fearsome appearance, with their large antler-like jaws, they are harmless.

The life cycle of a stag beetle lasts for several years, but their numbers are declining due to the lack of rotting or dead wood, which is needed for adults to lay their eggs near and for their young to feed on.

PTES is keen for those with gardens to help out by making simple, stag beetle-friendly changes, making gardens across the UK stag beetle havens. These actions could include:

· Build a log pile. All that is needed is an outdoor space, some wood and PTES’ free instruction sheet.

· Leave dead wood. If you have old tree stumps or dead wood in the garden, leave them alone as they are ideal habitats for stag beetles.

· Protect them from dangers. Stag beetles like warm surfaces, such as roads and pavements, which make them vulnerable to being squashed by humans and vehicles. Be wary where you walk and look out for magpies and cats who can also predate on stag beetles.

· If you find a stag beetle, it’s usually best to leave them alone. If you dig up stag beetle larvae when gardening, return it to where you found it and replace the soil and rotting wood.