A spider presumed extinct in Britain for almost half a century has made a remarkable comeback thanks to habitat restoration.
Two National Trust volunteers were astonished to find the rare Diamond spider (Thanatus formicinus) while searching for arachnids in heathland at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
The spider has only been recorded in the UK on three occasions, all of them in the South of England, and not since 1969. The discovery was made by volunteer rangers as part of ongoing ecological monitoring of the park.
Lucy Stockton, who made the discovery with fellow volunteer Trevor Harris, says, “The spider ran away from me twice but with persistence and some luck I caught it; at the time I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a rare find. Upon closer inspection our spider had a conspicuous ‘cardiac mark’, a black diamond shape on its abdomen, edged with white that helped us to identify it.”
“We were thrilled to have discovered this new resident of Clumber Park and to prove that this species is definitely not extinct in the UK.”
The last recorded sightings of the Diamond Spider occurred in Legsheath and Duddleswell, in Ashdown Forest, in 1969. The arachnid was also found near Brokenhurst, in the New Forest, at the end of the 19th century. Its habitat includes damp areas with moss, purple moor grass and heather. Its English name derives from the thin black diamond on its back.
The National Trust is working on an £8.5 million restoration programme to revive parts of Clumber Park, which includes restoring areas of heathland and other important habitats for wildlife. This is part of the conservation charity’s wider ambition to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.
Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive, Buglife, said, “We are absolutely delighted that this pretty little spider has been re-found, we had almost given up hope. It is a testament to the crucial importance of charities like the National Trust saving and managing heathland habitats.”
Dr Helen Smith, Conservation Officer, British Arachnological Society, said, “This species is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, and it was thought possible that it had become extinct in Britain – its conservation at Clumber is now a very high priority. The discovery highlights both the importance of the Clumber heathlands and the invaluable contribution made by volunteers in recording spiders and providing the information needed to help conserve our rarest species.”
Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Specialist on Nature, said: “This remarkable discovery shows that diligent amateurs can strike gold here in the UK, by surveying the less well studied elements of our flora and fauna. In this era of species decline, climate change and arrival of new species, the nation needs a vast new army of naturalists, to discover and monitor what’s going on, and so inform our decision makers.”
Experts from the national Spider Recording Scheme confirmed the spider’s identity.