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Ladybird spider

The Ladybird spider was thought to be extinct in Britain for over 70 years, until it was rediscovered in 1980. Since then no other populations have been found , and across the rest of its range  in northern Europe, the Ladybird spider is only locally common in a very few places.

It is so endangered in the UK that it is possible to count each individual spider living in Dorset, where it has managed to keep a small but determined eight-legged foothold.

The Ladybird spider depends on lowland heathland – and this is its main problem. Heathland has suffered drastic declines over the last 100 years or so, being ploughed up for agriculture and forestry, or built on.

The spider’s long life-cycle, very specific requirements and the fact that it is not good colonising new sites, have all added to its vulnerability.

Ladybird spider (Eresus sandaliatus) © Stephen Dalton

Ladybird spider (Eresus sandaliatus) © Stephen Dalton

When it was first rediscovered in 1980, the remaining last remaining site supported only a few spiders, but successful habitat management has resulted in the population expanding to its current level of nearly 1000 individuals.

Since 2000, other colonies have been established on Dorset heathland. Spiders have been carefully released onto new sites – increasing the number of Ladybird spider populations in Dorset from one to eight. But there is still a lot of work to do.

To safeguard this spider, we need to establish at least twenty populations in the wild.

Ladybird spider burrow © Anne Haplin

Ladybird spider burrow © Anne Haplin

We need to continue the programme of releasing spiders onto new sites, and we also need to monitor the existing populations to ensure that they are healthy and doing well, and we need to carry out habitat management work to ensure that the sites remain in the right condition for the spider to thrive.

Our main project activities are:

  • Establishing new populations of the Ladybird spider
  • Monitoring the existing populations to ensure that they are healthy and sustainable
  • Managing the habitat at Ladybird spider sites so that populations can expand and spread naturally

Lowland heathland is the favoured habitat for a wide range of insects and other rare invertebrates, so our work to help the Ladybird spider should also benefit other species.

The Ladybird spider project is a partnership between Buglife, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, Dorset Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Dudley Zoo, the British Arachnological Society, the National Trust, the Minstry of Defence, Life-Forms and Perenco.

We are grateful to The Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and the Veolia Environmental Trust for supporting this project.

The following organisations provided financial support for the project in 2012: Spider Eye animation studios, A.S. Butler Charitable Trust, Natural England.

The project is also kindly supported by the project partners and by individual donations.