Is this my favourite animal?

Our trip to the New Forest provided a chance to see an animal that is one of my favourites.

No, not a New Forest Pony or even a New Forest Donkey, though these animals play a big part in keeping the Forest the wonderful place it is.

Close grazing by ponies, cattle, donkeys, sheep and even pigs, without the use of fertilisers to artificially boost the production of grass, is vital to the maintenance of the wonderful New Forest landscape.

The donkeys were quite pleased to see us - though I wasn't quite as pleased to see them as the photo is suggesting

My favourite animal, it will probably not surprise you to learn, is a bit smaller but no less beautfiul (well, with all due respect to donkeys and ponies, actually rather more beautiful).

Of course you can’t cuddle Fairy Shrimps in quite the same way as a donkey but they are small miracles.

CLICK TO SEE A HIGHER RES PICTURE. Fairy Shrimps swim upside down on their backs: here you can see the fine limbs behind the head that filter food from the water and the full egg sac - this animal will soon complete its life, leaving the next generation of eggs to hatch once the pond has gone through a drying and re-wetting cycle. I grabbed a quick snap of this one in my white tray.

Fairy Shrimps – ours is called Chirocephalus diaphanus (ky-row-kef-a-lus di-af-an-us) – are crustaceans that grow up to about an inch long and glide serenely through shallow water in seasonal ponds which dry out in summer.

Here’s a better, indoor, picture of Chirocephalus taken by Jean-François Cart.

In this country they live in ponds scattered around a few of our better quality landscapes: the New Forest, the hills of mid-Wales, the edge of Dartmoor, the Army Ranges on Salisbury Plain (where they are found in water-filled ruts left by tanks) and a few other places. Their scarcity, and the sensitivity of their habitat – nearly always confined to the highest quality unpolluted ponds in gently managed landscapes – means that they are listed in the United Kingdom Red Data Book and are given special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

They only survive in ponds with no fish – and are another creature where special vigilance is needed if they are to remain part of our lives in the future.

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