Many zoos and aquariums extend their efforts beyond the exotic animals which they display; there are many fascinating creatures from the UK which make a great basis for native species conservation and education programmes.
Many zoos are involved with conservation projects for UK species, and work to promote interest in the plight of endangered species which live within the UK. Many people are not aware of the amazing biodiversity found in our own back yard – or the number of creatures living right here which are in need of conservation efforts. Zoos might get involved with native species education via talks, bug hunts, nest box schemes or recording projects. Interpretation is also often a great way for zoos to let visitors know about native creatures, and what we can do to help – many zoos now have areas which are managed with native species in mind; from butterfly houses to bird boxes.
BIAZA zoos and aquariums have joined forces to ensure the survival of the fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius), listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and Threatened in the UK Red Data Book. It is found in only three sites in Britain – in Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales, almost certainly because of major losses to its wetland habitats. The zoos have been rearing spiderlings in test tubes for release back into the wild. This is part of a larger project collaboration between BIAZA, Natural England, The Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife Trusts, The Broads Authority, RSPB, University of Nottingham, Buglife and The British Arachnological Society.
BIAZA runs a Native Species Working Group (NSWG) for members, which holds an annual conference and regular meetings, providing information and support for member collections interested in working with native species. This group is promoting the idea of zoos as nature reserves and realizing their full potential for safeguarding native species along with exotics. It also coordinates a BIAZA Nest Recording Group which feeds vital information on the breeding success of Britain's birds into the BTO Nest Record Scheme.
This group is instrumental in helping our members to care for the the native species which naturally exist in and around their sites. The group have produced a range of helpful guidance documents including 'Managing your Site for Native Species', and also 'Zoo BAPs: How to Create a Plan for Zoo Native Wildlife', both available to members on the NSWG Resources page.
The Native Species Working Group has also been promoting a nationwide BioBlitz in BIAZA collections, in order to collate data and engage local conservation groups and the public. A BioBlitz is a large scale event that engages large numbers of people (experts and the public) with biodiversity, inviting them to get directly involved in surveying and monitoring. It’s also a great way for collections to realise the full potential of their site for native species conservation. Contact your local zoo to find out more about the native species work they are involved with.
If you are a BIAZA member you can log in and view the Native Species Working Group (NSWG) pages here.