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News Clippings

15 July 1999 Daily Telegraph

Great raft spider wins water battle
By A J McIlroy

THE future of the great raft spider, among the most threatened of Britain's wildlife, has been assured.

Essex and Suffolk Water has stopped taking supplies from wetlands at Redgrave and Lopham Fen, Suffolk, one of the spider's last refuges. Two years ago the company caused a stir by setting aside 20 million gallons of reserves during a period of severe drought to sustain water levels in the spiders' breeding ground in the fen.

It said that when it came to a choice between threatened spiders and "a marginally additional risk" of hosepipe bans for its customers, the spiders must take priority. The fen raft spider has a black or brown body nearly an inch long, white or cream stripes down its sides and furry legs that nearly cover the palm of a man's hand. The loss of wetland habitats has all but wiped it out.

Its name comes from the way it leans over pools on a plant stem, resting its front legs on the surface to pick up vibrations from approaching prey such as small pond-skaters or sticklebacks. Wildlife groups have restored the fen and the water company has transferred its workings to another area to protect the wetlands.

During restoration, an irrigation network was created to return water to the spiders' main breeding pools. Dried out peat was removed and the emerging scrubland cleared. Yesterday wildlife trusts welcomed "this significant step towards redressing the balance in the competition between humans and wildlife".

Essex and Suffolk Water said that the decision to move the borehole had meant "treading a difficult line" between returning the fen to its former condition while maintaining a secure public water supply.

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