The Fen Raft Spider Steering Group
The British Dolomedes plantarius Fen Raft Spider conservation programme is overseen by an informal steering group. Membership of the group comprises key stake-holders in the practical project partnership together with experts in different aspects of the work. Representation of organisations on the group changes from time to time as the work evolves and the sites involved change. The core group currently comprises Natural England, The Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, the Broads Authority, the RSPB, Dr Sara Goodacre of the University of Nottingham and Dr Helen Smith, the project co-ordinator.
Acknowledgements to the UK Dolomedes plantarius project partnership
Since systematic work began on the conservation of D. plantarius in 1991, many organisations and individuals have worked in partnership to deliver effective species conservation and recovery. Their contributions have comprised everything from core funding to washing-up test tubes. The numbers of volunteers involved over this period makes it impossible to acknowledge each and every contribution, but every one of them played a part in the success of the recovery programme. The main partners and some representatives of the volunteers are listed below:
- Natural England (NE) (and its predecessor, English Nature (EN)) funded the core monitoring work at Redgrave and Lopham Fen between 1991, when work on the Fen Raft Spider was adopted by their Species Recovery Programme, and 2013. The organisation was the lead partner for D. plantarius throughout this period and remains a key member of the partnership. Nominated officers for the species over this period have been Andrew Deadman, Martin Drake, Roger Key and David Heaver.
- EN/NE has also contributed to the project at a regional level. In Sussex, NE funded a wide-scale survey of the Pevensey Levels by Evan Jones in 1991 and a more limited one in 1999. It oversees management of the extensive National Nature Reserve on the Pevensey Levels which is the main stronghold for the spiders there. In Norfolk, NE have been closely involved in work to protect the remnant population of D. plantarius at Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve and have supported the translocation to the Ludham-Potter Heigham National Nature reserve, which is under their management.
- Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and its predecessor the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) oversee the conservation of the Fen Raft Spider on the Crymlyn Bog National and Pant-y-Sais National Nature Reserves, which are under their management, and on the adjoining Tennant Canal SSSI. They have funded several surveys of the spiders there are working actively to standardise monitoring and improve the spider's habitat.
- County Wildlife Trusts have played a major role in conservation of the Fen Raft Spider:
- The Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) has been involved with the spider's future ever since it acquired Redgrave and Lopham Fen as one of its first nature reserves, in the mid-1960s. The Trust instigated many management operations to help retain the spider population as the fen dried out and, from the 1990s onwards, worked closely with NE as a Species Recovery Programme partner. From 2010 onwards, the Trust and its dedicated conservation staff have also been major players in the translocation programme, with Redgrave and Lopham Fen being a donor population, and the Trust's Castle and Carlton Marshes reserves being the first recipients of new populations. As well as financial contributions to the programme, Trust staff and volunteers at all three sites have been integral to the survival of the East Anglia Fen Raft Spider population and, more recently, to its successful expansion.
- The Sussex Wildlife Trust has also been at the heart of Fen Raft Spider Conservation, hosting a dense population on its land in the heart of the Pevensey Levels National Nature Reserve. Trust staff have been core members of the partnership, undertaking regular surveys of the spiders on their reserve and facilitating the use of the area as a donor site for the translocation programme.
- The BBC Wildlife Fund. Now sadly disbanded, this fund, set up in 2007, was one of the BBC’s corporate charities, inspired by the organisation's Natural History Unit. It gave grants to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 2009, 2010 and 2012, to help support the costs of the D. plantarius translocation programme.
- The Broads Authority is an important supporter of D. plantarius conservation throughout the Broads National Park and has given financial and logistical support to the translocation programme. Financial support has also been generously given through the Love the Broads the Visitor Giving Scheme for the Broads National Park.
- The RSPB has been involved in the Fen Raft Spider partnership through hosting a new population on their Mid-Yare Reserve in Norfolk. Thanks are due particularly to Jane Sears for assessing the project for the RSPB and for her work on the Steering Group, and to site manager Tim Strudwick for practical help, support and enthusiasm. Many RSPB volunteers as well as local staff have helped with monitoring this new population.
The British Arachnological Society (BAS) contributed both through the assessment of the status of D. plantarius, and the search for potentially suitable new sites in preparation for the translocation programme. BAS volunteers helped to survey sites in southern England and East Anglia and to publicize a nation-wide search for sites with Dolomedes species.
The British Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) - between 2011 and 2013, BIAZA zoos and collections across England very generously provided skilled staff, together with volunteer time, to rear spiderlings for release in the translocation programme. Staff and volunteers at Beale Park, Bristol Zoo, Chessington Zoo, Chester Zoo, The Deep, Dudley Zoo, Lakeland Wildlife Oasis, Tilgate Nature Centre, Reaseheath College and ZSL London Zoo all fostered spiderlings and were a critical element in the successful establishment of the new populations.
- The John Innes Centre Insectary, Norwich, helped to develop the captive rearing techniques that proved such a successful element in producing large numbers of spiderlings for the translocation programme. The leadership and enthusiasm of Insectary manager Ian Bedford, and the skill and patience of Anna Jordan in particular, made a huge contribution.
The University of East Anglia - where full-time British academic research first started on Dolomedes plantarius in 2004. PhD student Phil Pearson, working with the late Dr. Bob James and funded by Natural England, worked on the autecology of the spiders between 2004 and 2007. Marija Vugdelić, with financial support from English Nature and the University of East Anglia, and supervised by the late Professor Godfrey Hewitt and by Dr. Sara Goodacre, worked on the genetics of the species between 2002 and 2005.
- The University of Nottingham - work on the genetics of D. plantarius moved to Nottingham with Prof. Sara Goodacre in 2006. Andrew Holmes completed an M.Res. there on the species in 2008.
- Buglife is represented on the Steering Group, and is an active project partner contributing to the monitoring work in South Wales.
- Just a few representatives of many wonderful volunteers:
- David Orr, an early volunteer for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust at Redgrave and Lopham Fen took an active interest in the spiders. He collected records and led work parties to excavate, by hand, new turf ponds as the fen began to desiccate in the 1970s. The notes he made about the distribution and numbers of the spiders, and his film Reed Grove about the Fen and the spiders, provide invaluable archival material.
Norman and Anne Groves collected weekly data on surface water levels in the turf ponds in the core of the spider's range at Redgrave and Lopham Fen from 1997 to 2008. This quiet contribution enabled analysis of spider numbers in relation to water levels on the fen during the worst period of desiccation there.
Ian Hughes (then Dudley Zoo and now Lifeforms) is a true ecowarrior who masterminded and organised the complex logistics around the involvement of BIAZA Zoos which made such a fundamental contribution to the production of test-tube reared spiderlings for the translocation programme. He drove carloads of spiderlings hundreds of miles across the country, often transferring his charges to their new foster parents in shady rendezvous at motorway service stations. He also reared batches of spiderlings in his own home.
George Batchelor, Jim Armes and colleagues, voluntary wardens at SWT's Castle Marshes reserve, the first recipient site of a translocated population, helped in many ways. Their team released the test-tube-reared spiderlings introduced in 2010 and 2011, and helped with the early-stage monitoring of them. Even more critically though, they provided boundless enthusiasm for the introduction, from the first idea, to seeing nursery webs studding the Water Soldier on their ditches.
Jeanne Hewitt and her late husband Dave, voluntary wardens for the Ludham - Potter Heigham Marshes National Nature reserve, were also wonderfully enthusiastic hosts to a new population and have diligently monitored its establishment, aided more recently by Andy Beaumont.
The Carlton Marshes Crew - too numerous to name them all but the volunteer team at Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Carlton Marshes reserve, guided by warden Ellen Shailes, have all been stars in delivering weekly counts of their translocated population.
- Stephen Baillie, with enormous tolerance of its eccentric requirements, very kindly built and helps to maintain this website.
And last, but only by virtue of being first, the late Dr Eric Duffey, arachnologist and conservationist, who first described D. plantarius from Britain in 1956, held out a burning flame for them in their darkest hours, and passed on the torch to me in 1992.
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