If you go down to the Broads today... watch out for the huge spiders!

Broads raft fen spider

Broads raft fen spider - Credit: Archant

They may not be the cutest or cuddliest of creatures – but efforts to save a huge spider from the brink of extinction are in the running for a national honour.

Andrea Kelly, Broads Authority senior ecologist

Andrea Kelly, Broads Authority senior ecologist - Credit: Archant

The Broads fen raft spider, which can have a leg span of up to 8cm, was once commonplace on the waterways, but its numbers have dwindled due to the loss of wetland habitats.

A project to revive the species has seen thousands of spiderlings –young spiders – reared at 11 zoos and three new populations introduced on the Broads, including Thurne Marshes, Strumpshaw Fen and Castle and Carlton Marshes, near Oulton Broad.

The hi-tech project pioneered methods to obtain DNA from moulted skins and used new test tube rearing techniques developed at the John Innes Centre.

Now the Broads Fen Raft Spider Project has been shortlisted for the Campaign for National Parks Park Protector of the Year Award.

Andrea Kelly, Broads Authority ecologist, said: 'The Broads has 66 species that are exclusive to the UK's wetland national park.

'Many of these rare species are only in tiny reserves within the park, so this project is essential

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for the survival of the fen raft spider. Officers and volunteers of the Broads conservation partners have worked hard for many years to get the wetland habitat into good condition for all kinds of wildlife and seeing 'lost' species return is the best reward.'

The project is up against four other shortlisted projects, with the winner to receive £2,000 at a parliamentary reception in London.

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Campaign for National Parks, said some 'excellent, innovative' projects were on the shortlist.

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