Highlands & Islands

Bugs life: In the lair of the wood ant eating spider

A proposal to build 58 homes near Nethy Bridge in the Cairngorms National Park has been refused planning permission.

The park authority's planning committee said the project would have a negative impact on the natural heritage of School Wood, an area of ancient woodland.

Conservation charities had argued that the woods shelter some of the UK's rarest, and strangest, wildlife.

Image copyright Stewart Taylor

Green shield moss, Buxbaumia viridis, is listed as endangered in the UK and has only been recorded at School Wood and a handful of other sites in Scotland.

The other locations include Rothiemurchus Forest and Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms, Moniack Glen near Inverness and Kindrogan in Perthshire.

The moss needs well-rotted wood to survive.

Members of the Cairngorms National Park Authority's planning committee were shown green shield moss during a site visit to School Wood.

Image copyright BSCG

One of the woodland's most unusual invertebrates is the wood ant eating spider, Dipoena torva.

In the UK, the small spider is only found in Caledonian pinewoods in upland areas of Scotland. Elsewhere in Europe, it has been recorded in Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Poland.

The spider catches its larger prey by spinning a network of silk threads across the trunks of pine trees. The antenna of wood ants become tangled in the threads and the spider then scuttles down to deliver venom from its small fangs.

Image copyright BSCG

However, the diner runs the risk of becoming the dinner.

Scientists have recorded occasions when the ants have been able to outwit and kill the spider and carry it off as food.

Image copyright BSCG

Even rarer than the ant eating spider is the pinewood mason bee Osmia uncinata. It is only found in the Scottish Highlands and relies on the nectar from a flower called bird's-foot trefoil.

Image copyright BSCG

Also key to the bees' survival is access to old trees in sunny positions and the abandoned burrows of long horn beetles, which they use for nests.

Image copyright BSCG

Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group has welcomed CNPA's refusal of the planning application.

A spokesman said: "School Wood is a popular wood that is important for an amazing variety of rare and threatened wildlife.

"We are relieved that the Cairngorms National Park Authority has now recognised both the high ecological value of this irreplaceable ancient woodland site."

Buglife Scotland said research has shown that Strathspey in general has almost double the number of rare species of insect in comparison to other areas in Scotland.

Alice Farr, of invertebrates conservation charity, said: "The Cairngorms is one of the best places in the UK for invertebrates, especially for species associated with mountains, woodlands and cooler climates."

Carol Evans, director of the Woodland Trust Scotland added: "Ancient woodland is among the most precious and bio diverse habitats in the UK.

"It's a finite resource, covering just one per cent of Scotland, which means that any further loss is unacceptable."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites