Ant finally? Not in Surrey…
Monday 15 September 2008
Over 300 of Britain's rarest ants now have a brand new home after being released back into the wild in Surrey.
Up to 25 red-barbed ant queens and their attendant workers were released on Chobham Common 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 ZSL, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT), the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (IOSWT) and Natural England (NE). This project 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 of 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.