A GARDENER has made what is believed to be the first sighting of a Mediterranean stick insect in Christchurch.

Eagle-eyed Tim East, 55, spotted the insect in the grounds of Christchurch Junior School while carrying out maintenance with Christchurch-based firm Hants and Dorset Gardening Ltd.

He was cutting back shrubs when he made the unusual discovery before sharing a photo of the find with his colleague Jody Fassinger on his phone.

Tim said: “At first I thought it was an escapee from the school. I was going to go into the school reception but then I started looking online and a came across this website that asked people to report sightings.”

Malcolm Lee of the Phasmid Study Group website quickly responded to Tim and identified the bug as a Mediterranean stick insect.

He was told by the expert that sightings of the insect had been reported in Poole and Corfe Mullen in recent weeks, however this was the first time one had been seen in Christchurch.

Tim added: “I’m into my wildlife anyway so for me it was interesting. I usually find slugs, snails, worms and earwigs so it was a nice change.”

Jody said: “Tim is our environmentalist guy, he’s the nature hero. He’s the one who will say ‘you can’t cut today because of hedgehogs.’”

In an email, Malcolm Lee told Tim: “Stick insects have neither need nor ability to travel far under their own steam, so all colonies are localised to a small area. Their main means of distribution is with human help as we bring plants into our garden from areas where stick insects are present.”

The Mediterranean stick insect, known as Bacillus rossius, is native to the north-western Mediterranean, particularly Spain, Southern France, Italy and the Balkans.

A colony of Bacillus rossius was discovered on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly in 2002 and still exists today. Another colony was recently found on Hayling Island which is believed to have been present since 2009.

There are no native stick insects in the UK. For more than 100 years, stick insects have become naturalised in South West England. The Phasmid Study Group says the insects seen in the UK are all female and reproduce by laying fertile eggs without the need for a male.