A rare and tiny snail is the star of a long conservation story that has a happy ending. The little whirlpool ram’s horn snail Anisus vorticulus has a name far longer than its diminutive 5mm diameter, but by making its home in the West Sussex Arun Valley it has led to the recognition of the area as a Special Area of Conservation(SAC). One of only three such sites in the UK that have been designated for this species.

Little whirlpool ram's horn snails completely unaware of just how special they are. 

Little whirlpool ram's horn snails next to a stamp.

The SAC designation covers both our Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks nature reserves. The addition of the latest accolade tops off the set – our reserves are now protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA) covering its importance for birds and at the global scale recognition of the importance of the area as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (named after the town in Iran where the Convention was agreed – in case you were wondering). 

Effective protection of our finest wildlife sites is essential if they are to survive into the future and ensuring we safeguard the laws that protect wildlife and the homes they need has been the driving force behind our Defend Nature campaign. Over 520,000 individuals have added their voice to the consultation run by the European Commission in to the fitness of the Nature Directives – you can catch up on progress with this vital campaign here.

This is by no means the first time that Amberley Wildbrooks has made conservation news. Forty years ago their fate hung in the balance as proposals to pump-drain the area were submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. The outcry from local residents and conservation organisations resulted in the first ever public inquiry into a land-drainage scheme. The inspector recommended the scheme should not go ahead and his advice was accepted. This landmark case brought into focus the idea that public money used to destroy a public asset for private gain was open to challenge.

Whilst the worst excess of the pump-drained proposal were avoided, the valley has been subjected to drainage and its long road back to recovery is part of the reason the latest designation is cause for celebration.

Designation is just a start – careful management of sites like these is crucial to ensure that they remain rich in wildlife. In the spring the valley is filled with calls of lapwings and redshanks as they settle down to nest. Amberley Wildbrooks remains the only reliable place in Sussex that nesting snipe occur.

And our tiny snail, too, is very demanding. It needs unpolluted calcium-rich water and it’s found in ditches that have lots of water plants. It often floats amongst the duckweed. Drainage, pollution and choking with weeds and silt are real threats to their survival.  Winter flooding – a desirable feature of this wetland nature reserve also helps by allowing the snails to move between ditches.

Due to its conservation sensitivity Amberly Wildbrooks is not capable of accommodating large numbers of visitors, but nearby our Pulborough Brooks reserve is one of our most popular reserves in the Sussex, offering you amazing opportunities to get up close to the wildlife that we are working hard to protect.

From pond dipping to nightingale walks, there are events on throughout the year designed to help you and your family get closer to nature. The reserve is also becoming increasingly important for overwintering waders, with record numbers of black tailed godwits counted in January this year.

Gosh, they are tiny! All the fun of Pondemonium!