Protecting Native Arthropods

ZSL Releasing red barbed ants at Chobham Commin

Some of the UK’s insects and spiders are highly endangered. The red barbed ant, for example, is the rarest creature in the UK. ZSL has a number of conservation projects aimed specifically at the UK’s smaller inhabitants, including the red barbed ant, fen raft spider, and field cricket. Because they are so small, these species are very easy to breed in captivity, which means that this kind of conservation intervention can be extremely effective. 

Red Barbed Ant

The red-barbed ant (Formica rufibarbis) is probably the rarest animal in Britain. The ant can only be found in two sites in the UK, making the population extremely vulnerable, so a conservation programme was set up in 2006 to help stabilise and increase the red-barbed ants chances of survival. ZSL bred red-barbed ants in captivity at ZSL London Zoo in a purpose-built insect rearing facility, whilst The Surrey Wildlife Trust prepared ideal habitat conditions for their release.

Field Crickets

In the 1980’s, a single population of less than 100 field crickets existed in Sussex, so ZSL joined forces with English Nature and other partners in the 1990’s to try to help save this cricket from extinction in Britain. A captive breeding programme was established for the field cricket at ZSL London Zoo, and over 15000 crickets have been released in carefully selected sites since the project began. 

Fen Raft Spider

In 2011 ZSL stated a captive rearing programme for the fen raft spider, which is listed as Vulnerable to Extinction in the IUCN Red List. The spiderlings released at selected sites to boost wild populations.


Project information

Key species

  • Red barbed ant, Formica rufibarbus
  • British Field cricket, Gryllus campestris
  • Fen raft spider, Dolomedes plantarius

People involved

  • Paul Pearce Kelly manages the red barbed ant and field cricket conservation
  • Dave Clarke runs the fen raft spider breeding project.


  • Surrey Wildlife Trust, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Natural England
  • Kindly funded by: Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England