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News Clippings

Monday 5 May 1997 (Daily Telegraph)

Water firm risks hosepipe ban to bail out spiders
By A J McIlroy

A WATER company has set aside 20 million gallons of reserves to save a colony of Britain's rarest spider from the driest spring in 200 years.

Essex and Suffolk Water said last night that when it came to a choice between life-threatened spiders and "a marginally additional risk" of hosepipe bans for its customers, then the spiders must take priority.

The company will pump 72,000 gallons a day to rescue the Great Raft spider in Redgrave and Lopham Fen, near Diss, Norfolk, one of the last two refuges of the species in Britain.

The fen is in Suffolk's driest area, where borehole levels are at an all-time low and hosepipe bans are feared. The company has already distributed circulars and placed advertisements in local newspapers appealing for its 1.7 million customers not to waste water.

The decision to divert supplies to the fen has been welcomed by environmentalists but has angered some customers, particularly gardeners. Brian Olley, the company's customer services' manager, said: "There is a marginal risk that the commitment of these reserves to rescuing the ponds makes us more vulnerable to hosepipe bans.

"But how can one possibly equate the life or death situation facing the spiders with hosepipe bans? We know we are doing the right thing when one considers the risk to the survival of this rare spider if nothing is done."

The spiders grow to the size of a human hand and survive on a diet of insects and small fish. The drought has turned their habitat on the 325-acre reserve into a parched wilderness, lowering the string of ponds upon which they depend for their food. The company has agreed to pump supplies from a nearby borehole into the reserve for up to six months.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which bought the fen in 1961, said it was delighted that help was on the way to the several hundred Great Raft Spiders living there.

Mike Harding, the fen reserves' manager, said: "The situation is very serious - the water levels on the fen are at their lowest since we began keeping records 25 years ago. The spiders need water in the ponds to help them feed and breed."

Arthur Rivett, the warden at Lopham Fen, said: "The water is a foot lower than normal at this time of year. It means that the spiders are not getting enough food after the winter to enable them to breed successfully."

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