Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conservationists highlight worsening plight of UK crayfish

Bristol conservationists are highlighting the worsening plight of native crayfish as the species is officially upgraded to ‘endangered’ today (Wednesday, October 27).

White-clawed crayfish are the UK’s only native freshwater crayfish, but their numbers have suffered extensive decline in recent years. Experts warn the species could become extinct from the UK within the next 30 years; it is currently a protected species.

Today white-clawed crayfish have been upgraded from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species following a Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) assessment by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The ranking gives an indication of how likely a species is to becoming extinct.

The South West Crayfish Project, led by Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, works to help protect the UK's only native crayfish species from threats such as the deadly crayfish plague and invasive species.

Eve Leegwater, Technical Biodiversity Officer at the Environment Agency, said: “‘It is important to base conservation efforts on scientific research and the IUCN Red List has become an increasingly important tool to guide government and scientific institutes towards the conservation and legislation of species and habitats at risk of extinction.”

She added: “The change in status of white-clawed crayfish will help stress the need for conservation strategies to be implemented to aid this valuable species.”

Up to 70 per cent of white-clawed crayfish have between lost from the south west and some parts of the UK have lost their entire populations. This is predominantly due to the crayfish plague - a fungus-like disease which is harmless to people and most animals, but lethal to white-clawed crayfish.

The crayfish plague is spread by the invasive American signal crayfish – a non-native species which is taking over UK waterways and wiping out our smaller native species.

The South West Crayfish Project is currently running the largest strategic translocation in the UK to date, re-homing at-risk populations of white-clawed crayfish to new safe sites.

In addition, a breeding programme for the crayfish is being developed at Bristol Zoo Gardens – the sister organisation to the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

Maddy Rees, UK Conservation Officer for the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, said: “Although research is being undertaken, there is currently no effective way to eradicate non-native crayfish species, or the crayfish plague. However, there are some simple, precautionary steps the public can take to help prevent the spread of the crayfish plague.

“The plague can be carried on anything that gets wet in infected water, so we are urging people to wash, dry and, if possible, disinfect footwear, fishing tackle, nets and other equipment that gets damp in our rivers and lakes. Never trap for any species of crayfish without a trapping licence, as it is illegal, and finally, never move wild fish between waterways, always use a reputable stockist.”

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.

The survival of white-clawed crayfish will be the focus of a conference held at Bristol Zoo Gardens later this year. The event, called ‘Species survival: Securing white-clawed crayfish in a changing environment’ will take place on November 16 and 17. It will include a range of lectures from speakers from across Europe, and presentations from experts in the field of UK crayfish conservation. To find out more, or to register to attend, please contact  or visit the ‘what’s on’ pages at

For more information about the South West Crayfish Project, please visit  or contact Maddy Rees by email on

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