September 6, 2008

Yes, Size Matters As Scotland’s Smallest Snail Wins Protection

By Jenny Haworth Environment Correspondent

IT MAY be only the size of a grain of sand, but despite its tiny stature giant steps have been taken to protect the narrow-mouthed whorl snail.

Measuring less than a millimetre across, the snail is one of the smallest in the world and one of the rarest.

A 15-hectare spot near Stonehaven is the last stronghold for the creature in Scotland.

Yesterday the site at Garron Point - about half the size of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh - was designated a special area of conservation, which under EU laws it is given the highest possible protection against development.

Mike Russell, the environment minister, said he wanted to protect species of "all sizes" as he announced the designation.

He said: "The Scottish Government is committed to protecting and enhancing Scotland's biodiversity and that includes species of all shapes and sizes.

"The narrow-mouthed whorl snail is clearly one of our smallest, but also one of our rarest species and it is classed as endangered in the UK.

"It is therefore important that we do what we can to ensure that it remains part of Scotland's unique biodiversity, even if we know relatively little about it."

A few of the miniature gastropods can also be found on a site in the Solway Firth, but that is soon expected to vanish through coastal erosion. Little is known about the behaviour of the pale brown snail, but it is believed to feed on micro-fungi growing on dead and decaying plant debris.

Fussy about where it lives, the snail requires damp, short grass and moss on marshes, or flood debris. It is on the red list of endangered species and, living in a microclimate, it is extremely vulnerable to changes in conditions and temperature. In Garron Point, up to 100,000 narrow-mouthed whorls live in two colonies, each less than 150ft wide. Rachel Haines, policy and advice officer at Scottish Natural Heritage, said despite the tiny amount of space taken up by the snails, it was important to designate the whole site to protect any unknown populations living between the two known colonies.

She is pleased the tiny creatures have been recognised and have been granted protection.

"Biodiversity isn't just about the iconic species like dolphins and golden eagles. It also includes these small and over-looked creatures.

"They are incredibly rare. Any extinction is a loss for everyone so it's quite encouraging that we are not just looking at attractive species."

Stuart Brooks, head of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust,

said: "Unfortunately as is often the case, more charismatic and appealing species tend to receive the lion's share of conservation attention. But size and looks aren't everything. These tiny creatures are a precious part of our ecosystems."

The site is the 239th Special Area of Conservation designated by Scottish ministers, and the first since 2005. Of nine other areas where the snail lives in the UK, seven are SACs.


0.9 Width of the narrow-mouthed whorl snail, in millimetres

1 Site in Scotland where the snails are expected to survive

100,000 Approximate number of the snails in Scotland

15 Size, in hectares, of the special area of conservation for the snails near Stonehaven

(c) 2008 Scotsman, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.