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PHOTO GALLERY: Spiders that will grow ‘as big as woman’s palm’ released near Strumpshaw Fen

PUBLISHED: 16:31 04 October 2012

A a secret location on the Broads hundreds of baby Fen Raft spiders are released from test tubes to help colonise the area after they were bred with the help of zoos across the country, Karen Lambert from Chester Zoo, Jeff Lambert from London Zoo and Caroline Howard from Dudley Zoo carefully transport the test tubes to the release  area.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

A a secret location on the Broads hundreds of baby Fen Raft spiders are released from test tubes to help colonise the area after they were bred with the help of zoos across the country, Karen Lambert from Chester Zoo, Jeff Lambert from London Zoo and Caroline Howard from Dudley Zoo carefully transport the test tubes to the release area. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

It was certainly not the place to be for anyone with a phobia of spiders but a remote spot on the Broads today became the setting for a remarkable conservation story.

After a summer-long operation patiently rearing Britain’s rarest and most spectacular spider in test-tubes, zoo staff from across Britain gathered on the RSPB’s Mid-Yare reserve near Strumpshaw Fen to release 900 of the babies.

Still only tiny, the fen raft spiders - Britain’s biggest variety - will grow to the size of a woman’s palm within two years.

The spider is currently only found on three wetland sites in the UK, including Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve in Norfolk, and the aim is to generate new populations in the county.

The ‘foster’ parents watched as the spiders gradually left the sanctuary of their test-tubes laid on the edge of the ditches that will become their new home.

Ecologist Dr Helen Smith, who co-ordinates the fen raft spider species recovery programme for Natural England, devised the test tube rearing techniques with the John Innes Centre in Norwich. She has reared 5,000 spiderlings in her own kitchen over the last three years.

She said: “I think everyone who does captive rearing gets very attached to them. The baby spiders each have their own test-tube to avoid them eating each other so you have to devote yourself to feeding them for three months.

“The Mid Yare reserve is a very good habitat and the spiders will be able to spread easily from the release site. It’s very exciting to be able to establish a new population.”

Tim Strudwick, RSPB site manager, said “We are delighted to be able to provide a home for fen raft spiders. They will take two years to mature and breed and we hope they will spread along the network of ditches on the site. In two years we should be able to take people on guided walks to see them.”

He confessed he was scared of house spiders, but said: “These are quite different. They have a beautiful velvety appearance and you want to stroke them.”

Caroline Howard, of Dudley Zoo, near Birmingham, has raised 400 baby spiders for the second year and was quite emotional when she had to leave them. She said: “We are the only zoo to name our baby spiders.”

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