Conservationists from a partnership to protect native crayfish are highlighting the need for people to take extra care near waterways, to help protect endangered species.
The South West Crayfish Project works across the region to help protect one of the UK’s globally threatened species – the white-clawed crayfish - from threats such as the deadly crayfish plague. The plague is spread by the invasive American signal crayfish – a non-native species which is taking over UK waterways and wiping out the smaller native species.
The crayfish project partnership is led by the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, a sister organisation of Bristol Zoo Gardens. Now ecologists from the project are urging anglers in particular to be vigilant when fishing, after an environmentalist was fined for catching, cooking and eating endangered white-clawed crayfish.
The environmentalist, from Leeds, was last week ordered to pay £4,000 after catching 40 crayfish which he believed were invasive American signal crayfish, but which turned out to be the UK’s native white-clawed species.
White-clawed crayfish are classed as 'vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They are the UK’s only native crayfish species, but their numbers have suffered extensive decline in recent years.
Up to 95 per cent of populations have been lost in some parts of the UK due to the crayfish plague - a fungus-like disease which is harmless to people and most animals but lethal to white-clawed crayfish.
Experts warn the creatures could become extinct from the UK within the next 30 years and the species is now a protected, as well as being a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species.
Maddy Rees, spokesperson for the South West Crayfish Project, said: “American signal crayfish are the main culprits for spreading the crayfish plague which is wiping out our native crayfish. However, the plague can also be spread by people as it can be carried on anything that gets wet in infected water – this can include wellies, walking boots, fishing tackle and nets.
“While we encourage people to get out and about and enjoy our beautiful countryside, there are a few simple measures people can take to help prevent the spread of this disease. We are urging people to clean and dry any equipment or footwear that gets wet in rivers and lakes. Drying is particularly important as any remaining moisture may enable the disease to survive.”
The South West Crayfish Project is a partnership between the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, Avon Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and Buglife, and is funded by Natural England, Biffaward and Bristol Water.
For more information about the South West Crayfish Project, please visit www.bristolzoo.org.uk/about/conservation/project or contact Maddy Rees by email on firstname.lastname@example.org