Buglife welcomes new protection for Britain’s oldest inhabitants – blind shrimps

Tuesday 24th January 2017

Buglife is pleased to welcome the confirmation of Pen Park Hole in Bristol as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of its invertebrate fauna, particularly the cave shrimps.

Pen Park Hole is a large cave system within a buried limestone ridge in Southmead in the northern outskirts of Bristol. The cave is approximately 60 metres deep and consists of a large main chamber containing a deep lake, and several branching passages.

The cave is home to a nationally important community of blind subterranean shrimps, including Koch’s shrimp (Niphargus kochianus) and the Font shrimp (Niphargus fontanus).  These small, white shrimps live their entire lives underground, growing slowly and living for over ten years.

While most British species were wiped out about 25,000 years ago by the last glaciation, cave shrimps survived in their deep havens and have been resident here for at least 19.5 million years.   British populations of these shrimps are considered to be genetically significant due to their long history and isolation.  For instance our Koch’s shrimp split from its European counterparts some 2.9 million years ago.

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife commented. “A great many places that are home to rare little animals get no formal protection, so Buglife is delighted that these cave shrimps, Britain’s oldest inhabitants, will now be safer from harm.”

The cave itself also has an interesting history.  Revealed by workers excavating stone in a quarry in 1669, it was explored by Captain Samuel Sturmy and a ‘miner’ with bizarre results.  Firstly the pair had to hurriedly leave the cave after the miner saw an ‘evil spirit’ and became distressed; four days later Captain Sturmy died of the fever.  In 1682 Captain Greenville Collins undertook a full survey of the cave, the resulting map is the oldest recorded cave map in the world.   Unfortunately on 17th March 1775 Reverend Thomas Newnam, who we assume was unaware of the map, attempted to discover the depth of the cave, but the ash branch he was holding snapped and he fell into the hole.  His body could not be found for several weeks leading to much macabre speculation in the press.