Natural Light

Saving the glow-worm

One of the joys of Keep it Wild is that being a small independent organisation we can support projects that no-one else is going to fund or promote. Take the glow-worm for example. A little gem of magic in nature's panoply - but, have you ever seen one? Would you like to see one? AND those questions hit a nerve with the public. Overwhelmingly the answer was no and YES!

With so few of these little creatures left in our countryside Peter Cooper, scientist, nature expert and stalwart of the KiW team set about investigating how to breed and reintroduce glow-worms into our countryside. To say there isn't much literature on the topic is an understatement and what there is proved to be misleading and destructive but, we learn from our mistakes and, with care and nurturing the project is moving forward!

Light in the dark
by Peter Cooper

2020 saw the establishment of the first known captive glow-worm population for the purposes of conservation and reintroduction and the initiation of the trial release site in the grounds of the Elvetham Hotel in Hampshire.

Taran Matharu from the hotel expressed interest in working in a joint project with Keep it Wild. Taran kindly agreed to provide funding and a space for the creation of a ‘glow-worm garden’ within the hotel grounds. They would be safe, protected and allow us to develop an ideal habitat for glow-worms informing future conservation work, whilst providing a unique and engaging opportunity for hotel guests. This joint approach furthered our two key aims of helping glow-worms and providing an opportunity for people to engage with nature.

During the summer 35 adult glow-worms were collected from sites in Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire to breed in captivity. A further 5 broods were hatched from adults collected by a colleague in Buckinghamshire. Almost 600 larvae were hatched however, due to the novel nature of this project the recommended housing conditions led to high mortalities leaving only a few dozen larvae. Whilst this is the nature of such projects it was disappointing to find that the only 'expert advice' was not reliable. We realised we were on our own. However with care and using a tested technique the larvae did well.

Our confidence in the viability of the project has now grown to the point that we are on track to increase our capacity in 2021 and see  the planned release of the first glow-worms, consisting of wild translocated adults and captive bred larvae. 

We now have two sizeable broods of glow-worm larvae hatched from captive bred larvae and a couple of other smaller broods too. All are feeding well and with the new set-up we should hopefully avoid the losses of last year. Our chances are improved by additional donor sources from Natural England in Gloucestershire and Hampshire. All being well we will have sufficient numbers of larvae to release at the Elvetham Hotel in the early Autumn and perhaps some for Coombeshead Farm as well. 

In order to provide a sound evidence base, a strategy is being written documenting the context of the project within the glow-worm’s ecology, status and IUCN guidelines, the protocols for survey, breeding, release and monitoring, and the cases for engagement. This formal document is hoped to increase opportunity for the project going forward.