Rare ants return to woodland to enhance biodiversity

Updated: 8 June 2021

A rare species of ant has been reintroduced to a woodland near Rickmansworth after an absence of several decades.

A rare species of ant has been reintroduced to a woodland near Rickmansworth after an absence of several decades.

Formica rufa, or the southern wood ant, is believed to have been last recorded in Bishop’s Wood Country Park around the time of the Second World War, and then disappeared.

But thanks to improved management of the woodland in recent years, it is once again a suitable habitat for the ants to thrive while enhancing the woodland’s biodiversity.

Three Rivers District Council, working in partnership with the Countryside Management Service, recently helped to move several ants’ nests from Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire where the population is plentiful. A nest has also been moved from Pear Wood local nature reserve near Stanmore in Middlesex, where an earlier long-term reintroduction project has been so successful that some nests can now be spared without harming that population. This will also help to add some genetic diversity to the Bishop’s Wood population.

Cllr Phil Williams, Lead Member for Environmental Services, Climate Change and Sustainability, said: “It is relatively unusual for local councils to be involved in species reintroduction programmes such as this, but re-establishing natural processes, often known as rewilding, is a key way of repairing damaged habitats.

“The ants will fill a gap in the woodland’s biodiversity by removing pests such as caterpillars from trees, enhancing soil communities and plant distribution and providing food for other species like the green woodpecker and badger.

“We introduced two nests in February 2019 which have established well, despite being subjected to predator attacks at the end of 2019 and 2020. We’re confident the latest nests will be even stronger, being in a newly-created, better habitat.”

On arrival at Bishop’s Wood the ants were treated to a special dinner of mashed up bread, honey, water and a raw egg. The county’s ant recorder and expert Phil Attewell from the Hertfordshire Natural History Society, also involved with the nest moves, will be visiting regularly to top up the ants’ food and monitor their progress. Within a month it is expected the ants will be established and self-sufficient.

Over time it is hoped the ants will produce large, mounded nests, potentially containing hundreds of thousands of workers and scores of queens.

For more information about Bishop’s Wood Country Park visit our leisure website.