Reaseheath Zoo keepers in Nantwich have received a gold award for giving rare spiders a helping hand.
Keepers at Reaseheath College’s facility have been recognised for their success in rearing tiny offspring of one of UK’s most spectacular spiders, the endangered fen raft spider.
The prestigious gold award has been issued by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).
Six hundred fen raft spiderlings were hand reared at the Nantwich college during a three-year ‘rear and release’ project aimed at conserving British native species.
The spiderlings were kept in individual test tubes and fed with fruit flies and tiny invertebrates for three months until reaching a suitable size for release.
They have since successfully established viable new populations in restored habitat.
Reaseheath collaborated with nine other members of BIAZA, including Chester Zoo and ZSL London Zoo, throughout the project.
All received a gold award award at BIAZA’s 50th anniversary conference held at Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, earlier this month.
Around 6,000 spiderlings were released over four years.
Fen raft spiders are a wetland species found in three sites in East Sussex, East Anglia and South Wales and can literally walk on water.
They feed on invertebrates and can take small amphibians and fish.
The survival chances of spiderlings increases to over 90% if they are reared in captivity.
Deputy head keeper Lauren Lane led the project at Reaseheath, helped by colleagues and by student members of the college’s Herpetological Society.
Lauren said: “I am extremely proud our contribution to this important project has been recognised.
“It was a rare privilege to be actively involved in conservation work, although it was very time consuming and really tested our skills as zoo keepers!
“The project was extremely rewarding, particularly when we released the spiders into the wild.
“It was also a great opportunity for staff and students to work alongside major conservation bodies.”
The fen raft spider programme was run through a partnership which included Natural England, the Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, The Broads Authority, the RSPB and BIAZA.
A groundbreaking workshop on invertebrate first aid, written by Lauren Lane and fellow experts, was also recognised for its excellence at the BIAZA award ceremony.
Reaseheath Zoo has more than 150 different species including a substantial collection of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians.
It is open to the public every day during the school holidays, July 25–August 29.
(Pic above – Lauren Lane and Joe Chattell, of Reasheath Zoo, celebrate BIAZA Gold Award, and below Lauren releases fen raft spiderlings into a protected habitat)