Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire is a hotspot for the internationally protected northern hairy wood ants. This unique site contains more than 1,000 nests and is home to up to 50 million worker ants. Our rangers are regularly buzzing around the ants nests, helping visitors to see what's so special about them.
Anyone can track the ants - just follow them as they leave their nests, carrying eggs, twigs or other objects, and heading for the nearst tree. They are incredibly busy insects. If the nest looks dormant, it may be that they are avoiding the heat or rain - look for little air holes they create to manage the temperature of the nests.
Longshaw has recently hosted a University of York study, where experts carefully caught the ants and attached a radio receiver of one millimetre to each one. Researchers examined how the ants communicate with each other in their colonies, which are housed in several nests connected by a network of ant highways, with multiple ant queens spread between the nests.
How it helped
The findings from the research have been used by our rangers at Longshaw to manage the ancient woodland, made up of oak and birch trees, where the ants can be found.
Findings have also influenced the land management of Longshaw as the ants depend on sap-sucking aphids that favour oak, birch and pine trees but northern hairy wood ant populations struggle in dense woodland of this kind.
The ants use the honeydew produced by gently stroking these aphids to feed their young and in return the ants protect the aphids.
Need for protection
The northern hairy wood ant has an international near-threatened conservation status with the two main populations in England found in the Peak District (including Longshaw) and in the North York Moors.