Monday 5 May 1997 (Daily Telegraph)
Water firm risks hosepipe ban to bail
By A J McIlroy
A WATER company has set aside 20 million gallons of
reserves to save a colony of Britain's rarest spider from
the driest spring in 200 years.
Essex and Suffolk Water said last night that when it came
to a choice between life-threatened spiders and "a
marginally additional risk" of hosepipe bans for its
customers, then the spiders must take priority.
The company will pump 72,000 gallons a day to rescue the
Great Raft spider in Redgrave and Lopham Fen, near Diss,
Norfolk, one of the last two refuges of the species in
The fen is in Suffolk's driest area, where borehole
levels are at an all-time low and hosepipe bans are
feared. The company has already distributed circulars and
placed advertisements in local newspapers appealing for
its 1.7 million customers not to waste water.
The decision to divert supplies to the fen has been
welcomed by environmentalists but has angered some
customers, particularly gardeners. Brian Olley, the
company's customer services' manager, said: "There
is a marginal risk that the commitment of these reserves
to rescuing the ponds makes us more vulnerable to
"But how can one possibly equate the life or death
situation facing the spiders with hosepipe bans? We know
we are doing the right thing when one considers the risk
to the survival of this rare spider if nothing is
The spiders grow to the size of a human hand and survive
on a diet of insects and small fish. The drought has
turned their habitat on the 325-acre reserve into a
parched wilderness, lowering the string of ponds upon
which they depend for their food. The company has agreed
to pump supplies from a nearby borehole into the reserve
for up to six months.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which bought the fen in 1961,
said it was delighted that help was on the way to the
several hundred Great Raft Spiders living there.
Mike Harding, the fen reserves' manager, said: "The
situation is very serious - the water levels on the fen
are at their lowest since we began keeping records 25
years ago. The spiders need water in the ponds to help
them feed and breed."
Arthur Rivett, the warden at Lopham Fen, said: "The
water is a foot lower than normal at this time of year.
It means that the spiders are not getting enough food
after the winter to enable them to breed