RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Be grateful for beetles – our small army of minders

While we were sitting on the lawn having tea, this amazing-looking beetle suddenly appeared, crawling along the path under the window.

I had never seen one before and was unable to give it a name instantly. Then a quick flip through the book told me that it was a tanner beetle, the largest British longhorn.

This one was a male and about one-and-a-half inches long. The females are even bigger.

The enormous saw-tooth antennae are what you have to notice, and that isn’t difficult. The males fight each other with these fearsome weapons and try to turn the opponent over on to his back, when he would find it difficult to get out of the way of boots and beetle-crushers.

What I find odd is during 40 years we have lived in this house, we have never ever seen another tanner beetle.

The book says they survive south of Lancashire in old forests and parks. Nice to think this corner of West Dean Estate can be called ancient, and healthily-unchanged for many centuries. The sheer number of species of moths here tells you that straight away, with more than 300 counted three years ago during one or two nights of lamping.

And from my own kitchen window I have watched 23 different species of butterflies enjoying the flowers and the nectar, and the perfect little warm micro-climate we have created.

Even so, it is odd such a big beetle could be missed. It must have been here all the time, breeding in the roots of dead trees. Some people hate beetles. They might look ugly, even sinister. When you live with them, you soon realise they are harmless, curious, and best of all indicators the place is healthy and unpolluted.

We enjoy the red cardinal beetles, handsome as they stride about on the blossoms. Native ladybirds are known and liked by everyone because they are pretty and have a good reputation for eating aphids that attack roses.

There are the click beetles which amuse children as they click between your finger and thumb when lightly held. There are the rustic sailor and soldier beetles getting tipsy and sexy in wide white umbels of hogweed.

Each year we see the churchyard beetle, which lives under the plantpots and marches about at dusk like the vicar of Wakefield in his droopy black and violet serge. Maybugs are fun as they hurtle like helicopters through the early summer dusk.

In Chichester there are stag beetles, one of the best colonies in Britain and based near Oving. Red-tipped flower beetles appear every June, sexton beetles go quietly about their business of tidying the countryside of unfortunate birds and mammals which lose their life.

It would be dull without this army of minders who keep the whole ecosystem clean and tidy, who bury the dead and dispose of the waste.