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Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Thursday, 26 August 2010 09:17 UK
UK hunt for stately snail begins
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News


National Trust Nature Conservation Adviser Matthew Oates tells the snail's story (video produced by the National Trust)

A hunt has been started for a rare, tiny snail that has taken up residence at two English stately homes.

The snail species usually lives in old buildings in the Mediterranean.

But the National Trust believes it hitched a ride to their properties more than 100 years ago upon imported Italian and Greek stone and rockwork.

Following this discovery, the National Trust is now conducting a nationwide hunt to see where else in the country the snail may be living.

So far, the snail has only been discovered at Brownsea Island, Dorset and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire.

At around 13mm long, the snail has a pink-grey spindle-shaped shell.

View of south front, Cliveden
View of south front, Cliveden

Though it does not have a common name, its scientific name is Papillifera bidens.

The snail is believed to have colonised Brownsea Island upon rock imported from Greece in the 1880s.

The population living at Cliveden was shipped to the UK in 1896 when a brick and marble balustrade was imported from the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome.

Since their arrival, the population of snails at each site has grown, and the snails have spread; but only by a distance of a few metres.

However, their existence in the UK went unnoticed by naturalists until very recently.

"Given that the UK has always had the best naturalists in the world it's remarkable that these two colonies have taken so long to come to light, even though they're in our own backyard," says Matthew Oates, National Trust Nature Conservation Adviser.

Brownsea Island property
Brownsea Island property

The National Trust is now conducting a search of all its properties to see if the snail has colonised anywhere else in the UK.

"The Victorians and Edwardians loved importing statues, rock and brickwork from the Mediterranean," says Mr Oates. "The shipping over of this 'bling' in large quantities suggests that we could find new species, such as this lovely little snail, in surprising places."

The organisation is also asking the public to look out for the species, and report its location if found by uploading photographs to a Flickr site. They will then be verified by experts.

"Who knows where else this small but beautifully shaped snail could be found lurking?" says Mr Oates.

"With items from gardens of grand houses ending up in reclamation yards it's possible that the snail could be fairly widespread."

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