Scientists and conservationists from across Europe have gathered at Bristol Zoo Gardens this week to discuss how to save the UK native white-clawed crayfish from extinction.
White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) are the UK’s only native freshwater crayfish, but their numbers have suffered extensive decline in recent years, mainly due to competition from, and plague carried by, North American signal crayfish. Experts warn the species could become extinct in Great Britain within the next 30 years.
Last month the species was officially 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 become globally extinct.
Now experts are meeting at a conference called ‘Species Survival: Securing white-clawed crayfish in a changing environment’, hosted by the South West Crayfish Project. The event brings together projects and experts to discuss ways to ensure the survival of this endangered species.
Wildlife ecologist and television presenter, Nick Baker, gave a welcome address to the audience today (Wednesday, November 17) and stressed the importance of greater awareness of the threats facing white-clawed crayfish. He said: “Before today I hadn’t realised what a hot topic this was and just how important this species is to our ecosystems and waterways.
“If we lose this species it would have huge implications on all of our lives because we depend on the rivers inhabited by the white-clawed crayfish and their existence is an indicator of the health of our rivers. This really is a hugely important species and we must do all we can to protect it.”
One of the key events at the conference has been the proposal of a declaration calling on UK Government and funders to support essential conservation work to secure the future of the species and related ecosystems.
Neil Maddison, Head of Conservation Programmes for Bristol Zoo, added: “The white-clawed crayfish is one of our most globally important freshwater species, yet it is clear that unless we continue to investigate solutions to the problems of non-native species such as the signal crayfish, and the plague that they carry, we are in very real danger of losing the species.
“This would send a catastrophic message to the rest of the world that the UK is unable to protect its own biodiversity. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and as one of the world’s G20 countries, we have a stated commitment, and must be prepared to back this up with appropriate resources for protecting our wildlife.”
The conference, attended by more than 80 delegates, including many of the UK’s recognised experts and other stakeholders in white-clawed crayfish conservation, has been organised by the South West Crayfish Project. Led by Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, the project works to help protect the UK's only native crayfish species from threats such as the deadly crayfish plague and invasive 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 in waterways by the invasive North 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 trans location in the UK to date, re-homing at-risk populations of white-clawed crayfish to new, safer sites. In addition, a breeding programme for the crayfish is being developed at Bristol Zoo Gardens.
The South West Crayfish Project is a partnership between the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, Avon Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, and is funded by Natural England, Biffaward and Bristol Water.
For more information about the South West Crayfish Project, please visit www.bcsf.org.uk/about/conservation/project or contact Maddy Rees by email on email@example.com