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David Nicholls

NatureSpot Manager

County Recorder - molluscs

interested in all wildlife


Prickly Snail

Acanthinula aculeata

Why did you choose this species?

When I took on the role of County Recorder for molluscs I realised that there were a lot more species in Leicestershire and Rutland (VC55) than I had realised. Some of these are tiny however so are easily over-looked. The Prickly Snail was one of these and it caught my attention because of the bizarre arrangement of spines and ribs on its shell. Once found it is surely unmistakable yet it hadn't been recorded in Leicestershire and Rutland since 1999. Maybe it was now locally extinct? Then in 2017 whilst visiting Holwell Nature Reserve I turned over a rock and there it was! I've not seen another since then, and there has been just one other record, also in 2017, from Lockington Fen. I keep looking and hoping however!

What are the threats that it faces?

There are just 18 VC55 records in total for the Prickly Snail and only two this century so it is clearly an uncommon species and seemingly becoming rarer. It has, however, been spotted at 16 different locations - mainly ancient woodland (Sheet Hedges Wood, Prior's coppice) and limestone areas (Stonesby Quarry, Cloud Wood) though in other areas it can be found in hedgerows and scrubby areas. Across the UK it is widely distributed and not particularly rare so maybe we just don't have the right habitat? As many of the places in VC55 it has been found are nature reserves let us hope that at least in these areas it is thriving.

What can we do to help this species and others like it?

As is the case with many small invertebrates, we don't really know enough about the species to be sure. It would certainly help to have more records so we know where it is found and whether it is thriving. It may be under-recorded, not only because of its small size (2-3mm) but also because the spines pick up leaves and dirt so it is challenging to find (maybe this is why it has them?). All molluscs need to avoid drying out so need to hide in damp places, such as under stones and rocks and in leaf litter, so sites that are not too tidy offer better habitat.

What are your wider interests in nature?

I have very broad wildlife interests! I tend to focus on plants in spring, insects in summer, fungi in autumn and mosses and lichens in the coldest winter months. There is always something to look for no matter what the weather and the time of year. I try to set myself a fresh challenge each year of learning to identify a new group. Currently this is the muscidae family of flies - these are some of the commonest species around us but hardly ever recorded.

Where is your favourite place for enjoying nature?

In Leicestershire and Rutland, I love visiting Bloody Oaks Quarry - a tiny nature reserve in Rutland which is a former limestone quarry and now managed by the Wildlife Trust. It is covered in plants that like to grow in calcareous soil - very different to the usual species I encounter. And of course unusual plants brings unusual insects! At the right time of year it is one of the best sites for watching Dark Green Fritillary butterflies charge around. But I spend more time in my garden than anywhere else. It is doubly exciting to find species that are visiting or living there because of the plants and features I've added.

What are your top tips for helping wildlife?

Like charity, wildlife conservation starts at home. Collectively, gardens offer an enormous national network of habitats that has already become an important refuge for many species and could do much more. The more plants you can squeeze in the better, no chemicals and lots of structural variety - log piles, a compost heap, nest boxes and of course a pond - a real wildlife magnet. Just about every decision we ever make has some impact on the natural world so I try to be aware and think carefully about what I buy and eat for example. I would recommend reading Prof. Dave Goulson's book 'A Garden Jungle', it is very readable and a real eye-opener.