Ant finally? Not in Surrey…
Tuesday 9 December 2008
Over 300 of Britain's rarest ants are to get a brand new home when they are released back into the wild in Surrey.
Up to 25 red-barbed ant queens and their attendant workers will be released on Chobham Common on Monday (subject to weather conditions) in a bid to save one of the UK's most endangered species from extinction.
The move is part of the three year long Red-barbed Ant Project run by Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT), the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (IOSWT) and Natural England (NE) and is funded by a grant of nearly £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Under the care of Surrey Wildlife Trust, Chobham Common will become a stronghold for the ant colonies which have been reared in a specially-designed quarantine facility at ZSL London Zoo.
Only surviving on the Isles of Scilly and in Surrey, the UK population of red-barbed ants has declined primarily due to a loss of habitat and the spread of the slave making ant, which steals their young and kills any workers that try to protect them.
Paul Pearce-Kelly, ZSL's Senior Curator of Invertebrates, said: "It is wonderful to see that this project is now reaching the key reintroduction stage. We plan to annually rear new colonies of ants here at ZSL London Zoo for reintroduction into their natural Surrey rangeland.”
“It is imperative that we save this amazing species. ZSL along with the other project members are working together with ant experts in the hope that the red-barbed ants will live to see another day on mainland Britain."
Red-barbed ants, which are now classed as a national Biodiversity Action Plan priority, are a valuable component of Surrey's heathland ecosystems both as predators and as food for a range of other native species, woodpeckers and sand lizards.
Dr Simon Newell (SWT), said: “The project is creating the ideal habitat for this ant- bare ground on heathlands. This undervalued but essential feature not only benefits this species but many other rare and exciting animals such as endangered insects such as the heath tiger beetle, birds and reptiles.”
Harmless to human beings the ants nest underground and display their own distinctive reproductive behaviour. During courtship the young winged females climb to the top of a blade of grass to attract the attention of males by emitting their scent. The queens can live more than 10 years and mate only once in their lifetime, storing sperm inside their bodies to fertilize eggs for the rest of their life.
Relatively small areas of land can support a high density of ant nests. Reintroductions will be made at selected sites in Surrey creating a lasting British red-barbed ant population.
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Notes to editors
The release of the red-barbed ants is subject to suitable weather conditions.
Red-barbed ants are an attractive species of invertebrate which are not harmful to human beings. Nests of this species are unobtrusive, and are located under the surface of the ground. Red-barbed ants are an important part of our heathland ecosystems, and they are an important food source for other heathland wildlife such as woodpeckers and sand lizards. The ants feed on honey dew (collected from aphids) and small invertebrates (such as caterpillars).
The Red-barbed Ant Project will deliver conservation work for the red-barbed ant Formica rufibarbis in order to save this species from imminent extinction on the UK mainland. The red-barbed ant is one of the most endangered species in Britain and is a national Biodiversity Action Plan priority.The project aims to rear red-barbed ants in captivity at ZSL London Zoo for release in the wild, to manage habitat at existing red-barbed ant sites and to create suitable habitat at nearby sites where the ant used to be found. Relatively small areas of land can support a high density of nests. The existing wild population in Surrey will be supplemented with captive-reared animals. The Surrey release sites provide the best chance for the species to become secure in its historic mainland range. The red-barbed ant was made the subject of its own stamp earlier this year by the Royal Mail.
Contact: Lynsey Ford