Ladybird Spider In Dorset

One of Britain's rarest spiders is being given help moving to a new home - in old plastic bottles, the RSPB said.

The ladybird spider, named because of the bright red and black markings on the male during mating season, teetered on the brink of extinction with just 56 individuals remaining on one site in Dorset by 1994.

Since then, work to preserve its habitat and a programme of captive breeding and relocations to suitable heathland areas in Dorset have helped boost numbers.

In the latest move, endangered ladybird spiders are being transferred to the RSPB's Arne reserve, which the wildlife charity says is one of the most diverse insect and spider habitats in the country.

They are being moved in empty plastic mineral water bottles which make an ideal home for the spiders to make their nests in, the RSPB said.

The bottles have been filled with heather and moss and captured spiders placed inside and monitored while they settled in and made their webs.

Today, the bottles will be buried in the ground at Arne, allowing the spiders to make the site their home.

The heathland site is already home to 240 species of spider and hundreds of insects, including the rare silver studded blue butterfly, the Purbeck mason wasp, which is found only in Dorset, and the Roesel's bush cricket, discovered there last year.

The small ladybird spiders spend most of their life underground, living a solitary existence in silk-lined burrows with a web over the entrance.

They catch a range of large beetles, bees and wasps in their webs and drag them underground, but can also leave the burrow and chase after prey.

Toby Branston, warden at RSPB Arne, said:

''Arne is an amazing place for bugs and this is the best time of year to see and hear them.

''To be introducing such a rare new species here is very exciting and I hope we can help it to spread further.

''Burying plastic bottles in the heathland may seem a little strange to some of our visitors but the experts have found that this is the best way to translocate the spiders.

''This is an ideal habitat for them, so we will be keeping a close eye on the new colony and carrying out regular surveys to see if they take to their new home.''

The spider has suffered from the loss of lowland heath habitat, 90% of which has vanished in face of development of towns and conversion to conifer forest or agricultural land, the RSPB said.

Remaining areas of heathland have become fragmented or ceased to be properly managed, leading to the growth of scrub and threatening species such as sand lizards and nightjars.