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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
'Spider-man' unearths rare species
Spider, RSPB
Amaurobius similes: Not everybody likes spiders
Meet the real "spider-man" - Dave Blackledge has spent the last 12 months combing a bird reserve in north-west England for rare and unusual arachnids.

Spider, RSPB
Salticus scenicus: It will feed out of your hand
The warden at the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) centre at Campfield Marsh hopes his work will spark an upsurge in interest in the creatures that has already been heightened with the release of the Hollywood movie.

The film's special effects make it possible for a man to crawl up walls and spin webs of silk, but the capabilities of the real things are just as spectacular, says Dave.

His spider surveys in Cumbria should give us a better indication of the health of the spider population in Britain and help the society gauge whether its reserves are being properly managed.

Home from home

Among the discoveries he has made include a spider that can walk on water (Pirata piraticus) and one that can be fed by hand (Salticus scenicus).

Another, Amaurobius similes, is the producer of the bluish-tinged silk found in the crevices of many walls and tree trunks. It is commoner than many people think.

UK spiders
There are about 36 trillion spiders in the UK
That's about 600,000 spiders for every person in the country
And about 150 spiders for every square metre of land
Dave has found wetland spiders such as the Trochosa spinipalis - a rarity in any part of Britain - on Bowness Common, an area of lowland raised mire (peat bog).

With help from English Nature, regeneration work has taken place in such areas, which Dave regards as important in terms of maintaining population levels.

"The more we find out about these amazing and interesting creatures, the more we're able to understand the requirements of managing habitats," he told BBC News Online.

Special needs

He says that because not many people are interested in spiders the potential for new discoveries is higher, as he has found to his advantage.

But he hopes the new film will help promote interest in the area.

Spider, RSPB
The presence of spiders indicates the health of the reserve
"Hopefully the new Spider-Man film will encourage people to find out more about the superpowers of these incredible invertebrates, and will reverse some of the damage caused to their image by movies such as Arachnophobia," he said.

"Gathering information about all wildlife, not just birds, that occur on RSPB reserves is essential to ensure we are doing everything we can to conserve scarce, rare or threatened species.

Because of their specialised requirements, spiders can also tell us a lot about how well we are managing the site."

See also:

05 Jun 02 | Entertainment
22 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 Sep 01 | England
21 Sep 01 | UK
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