AN INCREDIBLY rare snail that was believed to be extinct in the UK has been found in Chichester Harbour.
For years scientists believed the lagoon spire snail was confined to the annals of Britain’s natural history.
But one of the world’s leading authorities on molluscs, Dr Martin Willing, has managed to uncover the tiny snail in a brackish pond in Chichester Harbour.
The find is so scientifically important the exact whereabouts of the creature, commonly known as the spire or mud snail, is being kept a secret. The snail grows to no more than 5mm and feeds on plants.
Dr Willing was hired by Chichester Harbour Conservancy to undertake a snail survey. Using grant cash from Chichester District Council, the aim was to find the rare Desmoulin’s whorl snail.
After two attempts, this snail could not be found, but the rare spire snail was discovered.
Dr Willing, who lives in Midhurst, West Sussex, said it was a very rare and important discovery.
He said: ‘This is the first actual sighting of this snail in Britain. It was found dead in clay lining the Roman baths in Bath. We think the clay from brackish lagoons was used to line the baths.
‘Then it was subsequently found dead near Farlington Marshes – some shells were found. It’s quite an interesting thing.’
Ed Rowsell, conservation officer at Chichester Harbour Conservancy, added: ‘Basically, the snail was thought to be extinct in the UK.
‘Our expert had a look for it on a site he thought he might find it – and he did. It’s very rare in Europe as well.’
Scientists now plan to conserve the snails’ habitat by closely monitoring the saltiness of the water.
The discovery was highlighted in this year’s wildlife report on Chichester Harbour.
The survey has found that some species have reached record levels, including a type of duck called the wigeon.
The survey also concluded around 20 seals haul out in the harbour and it is also home to water voles, grass snakes, barn owls and brown hares.
No otters have been discovered since a sighting in 2007.