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.