A Helping Hand for Our Native Crayfish
31 Jan 2009
Native crayfish claws its way back from the brink of extinction.
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Natural England and the Environment Agency announce results of five-year crayfish breeding programme.
The white-clawed crayfish, one of England’s most endangered species, is clawing its way back from the brink of extinction, thanks to a pincer movement by Natural England and the Environment Agency in the Yorkshire Dales.
The five year pioneering project bred 300 juveniles this year — making it the UK’s most successful breeding programme for the native white-clawed crayfish.
Once common in many upland rivers and streams, this rare crustacean is being driven out by the larger, more aggressive American signal crayfish which was brought to the UK to be farmed and carries a deadly ‘plague’ fatal to native crayfish.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The news that white-clawed crayfish are breeding in increasing numbers in the Yorkshire Dales is extremely encouraging and shows that targeted conservation work can make a real impact. The species has been all but wiped out following the introduction of its American cousin, but the success of this project gives grounds for hoping that extinction is by no means inevitable”.
Since it began in 2003, the Yorkshire Dales project has moved from a project designed to ring-fence surviving pockets of white clawed crayfish to protect them from the ‘crayfish plague’ and from predation by its bigger cousin, towards an active breeding programme. Natural England’s ecologist Paul Bradley, and Environment Agency fisheries officer Neil Handy, took the project one step further by developing techniques for captive breeding and rearing of white-clawed crayfish. A recent stock assessment showed that over 60% of the hatchlings had survived; in the wild only a small fraction would reach breeding age.
Neil Handy, Environment Agency Fisheries Officer who has been responsible for developing and managing the facility, said, “We are at a critical stage in protecting our remaining native crayfish populations and our work in the Yorkshire Dales is at the forefront of conserving this endangered species. Its required a lot of hard work but the results demonstrate just how successful we have been in rearing native white clawed crayfish. We now need to build on this success.”
Funding is being sought to expand the programme to produce at least 500 white-clawed crayfish per year. Once approaching sexual maturity, these individuals would be reintroduced into carefully selected sites. The expanded facility would also rear native trout and salmon to re-stock local rivers.
Story and image courtesy of Natural England
Image: Rare Native White-Claw Crayfish
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