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Focus: the stag beetle, a protected european species

The stag beetle (Lucanus cervus), a rare beetle which is featured in annex II of the "Habitat" directive (annex showing the species of flora and fauna identified as being of interest at the Community level, and which benefit from specific protection), has a relatively large population in the Brussels Region, primarily established at Watermael-Boitsfort. For several years, Brussels Environment - but also other actors including the municipality of Watermael-Boitsfort - has put management measures in place intended to preserve and develop this population.

An evaluation carried out in 2013 in the context of the implementation of the "Habitat" directive concluded that the local conservation status of stag beetle populations at Watermael-Boitsfort was favourable. Concerning the populations found at Uccle, the available data were insufficient to draw any conclusions.

If there is one species of which the Brussels-Capital Region can be proud, it is arguably the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus). The population of stag beetles present within the Region constitutes without doubt the largest core of the population which extends from Halle to Leuven and is vitally important for the preservation of this species at the local level.

Identification and ecology

The stag beetle is the largest beetle in Europe. Besides the beetle's size, it is the "antlers" of the male which particularly capture the imagination. These antlers are made up of huge mandibles which enable it to defend its territory from other males. They are also used to keep hold of females during mating, and to impress the beetle's natural enemies, including woodpeckers, corvids, owls and cats.

If we wish to manage or restore a population, it is important to know that the stag beetle does not fly well and as such cannot cover long distances.  It can be ascertained from literature that the maximum dispersion capacity is 1km for females and 3km for males.

The stage beetle likes warmth and as such appreciates south-facing slopes. For their territory, they need broad pieces of dead wood or large trees at the end of their lives and in contact with the soil, as well as well-drained soil which can easily be dug out. The females dig tunnels in the soil and lay their eggs underground, next to dead wood. The larva feeds on dead wood. The tree species does not seem to be important.

Dispersal and status in the Brussels-Capital Region

Due to the threats of extinction which have affected this species, the stag beetle features in annex II of the Habitat directive (Natura 2000), which grants it a special protection status. Its presence in the Brussels Region has contributed to the selection and demarcation of special protection areas of the Natura 2000 network.

In Flanders, the species has been studied as part of the compiling of the Red List and its status was considered as "endangered" (Thomaes A. and Maes D., 2014).

Evidence suggests that the stag beetle appears to have been commonplace in Brussels and its surrounding areas until the 1960s. (Thomaes et al., 2007). A net decline was observed from the 1970s onwards. One of the possible explanations is the change which occurred in the management of the Sonian forest. In earlier times, when the stag beetle was more widespread, the Sonian forest was partially coppiced and was much more open (particularly by the presence of grasslands and clearcutting). These days, the Sonian forest is much more dense. The last observation in the Brussels portion of the Sonian forest dates from 2004. The relict populations are present in areas which have been annexed by agriculture (wooded strips, etc.) and in gardens. We can conclude that, in Belgium, the stag beetle is not a veritable forest species but rather one living in forest edges and wooded embankments, where the microclimate compensates the lack of dead wood.

At the Brussels-Capital Region level, the "Logis" and "Floréal" areas (of Watermael-Boitsfort) are home to the largest known populations of stag beetle. In particular the old Japanese cherry trees (which are sometimes dead) which line the streets of these neighbourhoods offer them nesting possibilities, as do the old railway sleepers near the school at the Jagersveld, and the embankments and their ancient oaks, including the “Busard”, “Trois Tilleuls” and “Fauconnerie” embankments. A study conducted using the "capture-recapture" method indicates that the local population at Watermael-Boitsfort is made up of at least 200 to 300 beetles, and is stable (personal communication of CAMMAERTS R. quoted in NIJS G. et al. 2013). The map below gives an overview of the square kilometres where the species was observed over the period 2003-2014. From the observations available for the period 2003-2014, it can be ascertained that the species continues to disperse across the entire Watermael-Boitsfort territory up to just beyond the boundaries with neighbouring municipalities. However it is difficult to say for sure whether the species is in better shape or if it is just an observation effect.

In the south west of Uccle, the species was mentioned a dozen times over the period 2007-2010, and subsequently more. A dead beetle was also found in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, at the boundary of Wezembeek-Oppem. No historical data are available for these 2 municipalities.

Square kilometres in the Brussels-Capital Region where the stag beetle has been observed over the period 2003-2014
Source: Brussels Environment, based on

Like other species of community interest which are present in the Brussels Region, the status of stag beetle populations needs to be monitored, as do the status of conservation and protection measures. An evaluation carried out in 2013 considered that, given the size of populations and the current characteristics of their habitat, the local conservation status of stag beetle populations at Watermael-Boitsfort was favourable. Concerning the populations found at Uccle, the available data were insufficient to draw any conclusions (NIJS G. et al., 2013).

Brussels Environment takes action

There is a management plan proposal for the "Logis" and "Floréal" neighbourhoods where the species has been observed in significant numbers in various areas, among others at the Natura 2000 station (“Trois-Tilleuls” embankment).

As previously indicated, the maximum dispersion capacity is 1 km for females and 3 km for males. Based on this data and given the special protection status enjoyed by the stag beetle as a species listed in Annex II of the Habitats directive, the management objectives in terms of preserving a viable population of stag beetles are not limited to the special conservation area as such. In order to guarantee the preservation of this species, measures which are applicable to the entirety of the "Logis" and "Floréal" neighbourhoods - and beyond -  appear indeed to be vital.

In summary, the draft plan contains the following measures:

  • preserve the standing dead wood and trees at the end of their lives in the neighbourhoods (taking into account the safety of inhabitants and traffic), in particular for the dead wood situated in warmer and sunny areas;
  • so as to ensure a sufficient supply of trees which would allow stag beetles to nest in the future, it is advisable to plant trees throughout the neighbourhood (indigenous oak, Japanese cherry), sufficiently spaced from each other;
  • awareness-raising actions (information sessions in particular) towards the actors concerned;
  • for 2 embankments ("Trois Tilleuls" and "Kiekendief"), an open forest structure should be pursued, with lots of dead wood and indigenous oak as the dominant species.

The management of these embankments was taken over by Brussels Environment in early 2015 in the context of a partnership agreement with the owner (Le Logis and Floréal Social Housing Company). The measures outlined above have already been partially implemented over several years by the team of eco-workers: the recovery of embankments, by clearing the forest cover and preserving large pieces of dead wood in the soil, and conserving the trunks of Japanese cherry which are likely to be inhabited by stag beetles. These measures will be spread over several years before the optimal quality of habitats for this species is achieved throughout the areas concerned. The plan will be officially adopted after the official designation of the Special Area for Conservation I of the Natura 2000 network, including the stations which are home to the stag beetle populations.

In addition to this management plan, a study was conducted in areas which could potentially accommodate stag beetle populations, in particular in the Bois de la Cambre and the Sonian forest 

Date de mise à jour: 14/12/2017

Study(ies) and reports 

GODEFROID S., KOEDAM N (LABORATORIUM VOOR ALGEMENE PLANTKUNDE EN NATUURBEHEER - VUB) 2006. “ Contribution au monitoring du Lucane cerf-volant (Lucanus cervus – annexe 2 de la directive Habitat 92/43/CEE) en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale ”.  Study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 19 pp. + appendices (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)

PLESSERS I., VAN BRUSSEL S., HENDRICKX P., VERHEIJEN W. (ARCADIS) 2008. “Beheerplan voor Natura 2000-gebied in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest - Gebied IA11: Taluds “Drielinden””, Study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 24 pp. (.pdf, Dutch only)

NIJS G., LAMBRECHTS J., VERBELEN D., WEISERBS A. 2013. « Opvolging Lokale Staat van Instandhouding van soorten in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest », Natuurpunt Studie 2013/7. Study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 108 pp. (internal report, in Dutch only)

THOMAES A. 2009. “A protection strategy for the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus,(L., 1758), Lucanidae) based on habitat requirements and colonisation capacity”, proceedings of the 5th Symposium and Workshop on the Conservation of Saproxylic Beetles, pp.149-160 (.pdf)

THOMAES A., BECK O., CREVECOEUR L., ENGELBEEN M., CAMMAERTS, R., MAES D. 2007.  “Het Vliegend hert in Vlaanderen en in het Brussels Gewest”, Natuur.focus 6(3):76-82. (in Dutch only) (.pdf)

THOMAES A., KERVYN T., BECK O., CAMMAERTS R. 2008. ”Distribution of Lucanus cervus (Coleoptera, Lucanidae) in Belgium : surviving in a changing landscape”, in Vignon V., Asmod&eEacute; J.-F. (eds), proceedings of the 4th Symposium on the Conservation and Workshop of Saproxylic Beetles, Vivoin (72) / France, 27th-29th June, 2006. Rev. Écol. (Terre Vie), suppt. 10. (.pdf)

HOMAES A., MAES D. 2014. “Rode-Lijststatus van het Vliegend hert (Lucanus cervus). Rapporten van het Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek 2014 (1549345)”, Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek, Brussel. (in Dutch only) (.pdf)

THOMAES A., VANDEKERKHOVE, K. 2004. “Ecologie en verspreiding van Vliegend hert in Vlaanderen”. Rapport IBW Bb R2004.015. Instituut voor Bosbouw en Wildbeheer, Geraardsbergen. (in Dutch only) (.pdf)

THOMAES, A., KERVYN, T., BECK, O. & CAMMAERTS, R., unknown year. «  Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) distribution in Belgium (Coleoptera: Lucanidae)”, poster.