Winter = staying snug indoors in the nest, stockpiling resources, occasionally venturing out on the brief warmer days... And so are the ants!


Our own activity has continued likewise. Mark the timeline: at 13.11pm on 26 November 2018 a quietly significant moment happened – Narrow-headed Ants returned to Bovey Heathfield nature reserve (their penultimate site) after a gap of over 14 years! The number of sites in the country just doubled!

Strictly a preliminary trial only, a small ant’s step, this was a giant symbolic leap on the once degraded moonscape of the heathland, rescued from the brink of destruction itself by the efforts of Devon Wildlife Trust and volunteers. Today the recovering site and its prospects are looking as purple as the recolonising heather. Each week we’ve been monitoring progress of the relocated nests: if the nests, and we, succeed - these will be the first inklings of a method that can be developed into a fuller translocation programme.

This is not quite the whole story: the number of sites actually tripled, temporarily. Over Christmas a nest, and several hundred ant house guests, were hosted at home, the purposes being to observe winter behaviour and learn about nest housekeeping. It was also a more engrossing watch than Christmas TV.

Will it be possible to raise queens from such captive nests?
Within 8 hours, new entrances started popping up at the soil surface. Over the following days evidence of subterranean tunneling could be seen against the translucent sides of the container. These ants would be naturals at Minecraft! After 4 weeks workers were carrying nibbled grass stems and soil fragments to a burgeoning mound tilted towards the light from a window; thatching had commenced.

Hopefully, and in more ways than one, it’s just the beginning...


Stephen Carroll

Narrow-headed Ant project officer.



Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
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