Updates on our conservation projects
First the bad news
Not really conservation news, but in 2020 we had two cars die in Dorset. One mission was delivering Barberry plants to Butterfly Conservation. The other was to survey ladybird spider sites and deliver the plants that hadn’t quite made it before.
For us this is one of the biggest challenges for conservation work; maintaining vehicles that can do the work with meager funds, everything else is easy.
Ladybird Spider Eresus sandaliatus
Having established the 17th population in 2020 on Forestry England land, we used the spiders collected in 2020 to augment a couple of the introduced populations. We found, around 2015, through surveying our ever-growing number of populations that they often disperse southwards. So we are now experimenting with management methods to encourage more even dispersal in all directions. It’s early days yet and the populations are still small ,but it seems likely that males are more likely to head southwards or south westwards into the breeze and towards the sun and so breeding tends to take place in that direction. In larger populations on uneven ground and varied vegetation heights, this is less likely to happen and males, detecting other males to the south, would probably be more likely to try other directions.
The winter was spent building translocation containers and filling them with soil and moss to create the little spider gardens in which our travelling spiders, pioneers for new populations will live.
We were joined in 2020, both for the introduction of 2019s spiders and the collection of 2021s, by two staff members from Natural England for a thorough induction into the world of Eresus. Such Eresus heroes join the pantheon of great folk who we’ve had the good fortune to work with since the start of the millennium when we began the translocation work.
Forestry England who once owned the site of the only known population of this extremely rare spider (Britain’s only Eresid) have been incredibly supportive in our 20 odd years of working together. This year they have provided grant aid for the ongoing work. It is an honour and a pleasure to be working with them and to see the spider populations steadily grow.
There’s information about this glorious spider on the back of the pocket notebook.
Scarlet malachite beetle Malachius aeneus
Covid probably effected this work more than any other. The survey period in 2020 fell right in the middle of lockdown. We felt the beetles could survive without a visit. We’ve found that the little beetle haven, covering roughly the area of a typical semi-detatched house, has worked a treat. The farmer who owns the land is a hero and has given up the field corner for our field experiments. Where crops of wheat once grew, we now have scarlet malachite beetles favourite plants… meadow foxtail grass, cocksfoot grass growing beside our beetle nurseries.
The nurseries don’t support a viable population but tell us a lot about the beetle life cycle and provide some insurance against accidental extinction. We keep in touch with the handful of site owners and managers in Essex and Hampshire and share our findings. We recently heard that one of the Essex populations thought to be extinct is still present or, though less likely, has re-populated naturally. I say less likely because the beetles tend to congregate at the most convenient place close to the larval habitat. And only seem to wander if forced out by other beetles. This may be an adaptation to low numbers; those that wander fail to breed, those that congregate breed on and may change as we get large populations.
Glutinous Snail Myxas glutinosa
We have left the wild populations in peace for a couple of years and concentrated on the captive population.
We find that snails kept indoors survive perfectly well as do those in our raised pond made from an old oil tank cut in half. Problems arise only if populations are shaded and cool when eggs seem to fail to hatch or when leaves or decaying water plants are present. Whilst other pond life seems to survive unchanged, Myxas dwindles away in nutrient rich conditions. Nutrients are among the biggest pollutant problems for UK aquatic species. So it stands to reason that our rarest snail is susceptible.
We have one large tank of snails which receives no care whatsoever and another where they are sustained artificially. The ‘neglected’ tank has a lower population but has survived 5 years on algae alone. Whilst other tanks of snails have died out. The only difference is protection from leaves and other pollutants. This, along with other observations is helping us build up a picture of what Myxas needs… clean water that warms in the summer.
We know they can survive in lakes, slow moving rivers and fens as well as ponds. Here they must have survived alongside all the usual predators. In the wild, we have not found them much beyond a metre deep water. Last year Myxas conservation heroes donated an old oil tank that is nearly a metre deep. We have cleaned and sealed it and hope to introduce snails very soon to see how they behave in this deeper water. We’ll keep you posted.
Barberry carpet moth Pareulype berberata
Short and sweet this one. Barberry is in flower now, bees love it. We found that the day the first barberry flowers opened in our garden coincided with the day that the moths emerged from their pupae to begin breeding.
If you are planting barberry and live within the moth’s range in central southern England, I suggest you plant it in a raised and well drained position. In our 20 year experience of breeding the moths, we found that they can survive damp. They can survive severe frosts but they do not survive a combination of the two. Many wild populations occupy raised (and therefore well-drained) hedge banks. Our barberry seedlings are germinating now.
For the last 3 years we have been providing plants for the lottery funded Back from the Brink project. Which bought hundreds of plants for large scale planting schemes. Prior to that we were providing plants (often free of charge) for smaller scale planting. Working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, Forestry England (moth heroes as well as spider heroes) and Dudley Zoo who were long term supporters of Barberry carpet moth conservation. Long may it continue.