Cave spiders at home in old air-raid shelter

THERE may not be any caves in Papworth, but that has not prevented the village from becoming home to a rare breed of cave spider. About 100 of the arachnids have been discovered living in an old air raid shelter in the centre of the village, close to Papw

THERE may not be any caves in Papworth, but that has not prevented the village from becoming home to a rare breed of cave spider.

About 100 of the arachnids have been discovered living in an old air raid shelter in the centre of the village, close to Papworth Hospital.

It is the only known location for the spiders in Cambridgeshire and one of just 20 or so sites where they can be found in the whole of the UK.

The cave spiders (meta bourneti) were found by Rob Mungovan, ecology officer at South Cambridgeshire District Council.


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"The spiders are an important biodiversity find," Rob said. "While they might not be protected by law, or be everybody's favourite animals, they have a role to play in the functioning of ecosystems.

"Our countryside would not be the rich and diverse landscape that it is without such creepy crawlies."

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The cave spider is one of Britain's biggest. They can have a leg-span measuring 5cm (2in) and the body is up to 1.5cm (0.7in) long.

They are dark bronze in colour and will spin small open webs to catch insects. They also form large droplet-shaped egg sacs which hang from the roofs of caves - or air-raid shelters. They are also thought to like hollows in old trees, and may also be living at such sites in nearby Papworth Wood.

Cave spiders also live in total darkness and adults have a very strong aversion to light. Young spiders undergo a phase in which they are attracted to light, which enables them to leave caves and establish new colonies.

Now the spiders face being relocated to a new home in a new shelter, which is to be built nearby, and in the cellar of the disused St Denis Church Local Nature Reserve at East Hatley.

Phil Leggett, regional planning manager for the South Midlands office of David Wilson Homes, which is developing the Papworth site for housing, said the firm was committed to doing everything it can to conserve the species.

"The discovery of cave spiders was an interesting surprise because the shelters were being searched for bats," he said. "Our own ecologist has agreed a translocation strategy with the council which will re-create optimal conditions for the spiders in a newly constructed shelter in nearby woodland."

INFORMATION: A condition attached to the planning permission for the development required a spider translocation scheme to be approved before any building work can start. The move will take place in September and the spiders will be monitored for five years.

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