Friday, 23 December 2011

UK fairy shrimps under threat from recent dry autumn

Fairy shrimps threatened after dry autumn

Britain's endangered fairy shrimps are under threat as a dry autumn has affected the ponds they live in, a charity says.

Fairy shrimps are tiny translucent crustaceans, which usually hatch near Christmas.

But charity Pond Conservation says many of their pools may dry out completely.

Another problem is that some "transient" ponds are beginning to hold water permanently, allowing predatory fish to colonise them.

Pond Conservation's Dr Jeremy Biggs said: "With only a handful of sites across the whole of Britain, the future of these beautiful creatures is balanced on a knife-edge."

It is that hoped fairy shrimps (Chirocephalus diaphanous), which are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, will return to their "strongholds" this Christmas in Hampshire's New Forest, on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, on Salisbury Plain, in parts of the Sussex Weald, as well as in Oxfordshire, East Anglia and South Wales.

They complete their life-cycle during the coldest part of the year, hatching as water returns to their shallow ponds, which dry out in summer.

They reach maturity over winter, then lay eggs, which can survive long periods of drought. The adults die when their ponds dry out in spring.

Dr Biggs said: "They are facing a double-whammy from pollution and changing weather patterns.

"We don't know whether they can survive in their existing habitats, so we have also been making special new seasonal clean water ponds for them to try to increase their numbers.

"We're hoping that by providing more habitat, we will increase their chances of surviving in the British countryside."

He says that, although Britain has half a million ponds, 80% of those in England and Wales are polluted.

Dr Biggs added: "We'd ask people to look out for them on their Christmas day walk, especially if they are walking past small pools in more natural parts of the countryside - in woods, or on heathland, for example."

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