Due to a devastating reduction in numbers, white-clawed crayfish, Austropotamobius pallipes, has been designated a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and became classified as globally endangered in 2010. Some parts of the UK have lost their entire population of white-clawed crayfish, south west England has lost up to 70% over recent years. The South West Crayfish Partnership (SWCP) has been formed to conserve this valuable keystone species.
Main threats to white-clawed crayfish are competition from introduced crayfish such as the North American signal crayfish and the spread crayfish plague, a fungus-like disease which is lethal to white-clawed crayfish.
The South West Crayfish Partnership has been working together since 2008, when it undertook the South West Crayfish Project. Currently the partnership is running the Crayfish in Crisis project which is working to protect native white-clawed crayfish through field conservation work, captive breeding and education.
The South West Crayfish Project search for white-clawed crayfish in an ‘at risk’ river
Teams from the Buglife, Avon Wildlife Trust and local ecologists, with support from the Environment Agency and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, are relocating (re-homing) ‘at risk’ populations of white-clawed crayfish to safe ‘ark’ sites in the largest strategic translocation of white-clawed crayfish in the UK to date.
Bristol Zoo Gardens and Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, are running a successful breeding programme for the white-clawed crayfish. The crayfish breed in captivity have enabled valuable research to be undertaken. Large numbers are being reared for release into the wild in safe ark sites. The South West Crayfish Partnership is also supporting Paignton Zoo Environmental Park to establish an additional breeding facility for South West England.
Make a difference
Practical conservation is essential for the survival of this species; however, public support is also vital for success. The Crayfish in Crisis project has set up an innovative Roadshow for schools to encourage children to explore freshwater habitats and to promote the following key messages:
Crayfish plague is spread on damp equipment and can wipe out entire populations of white-clawed crayfish. Check, clean and dry out all your equipment and clean the mud off your boots after a visit to a river or lake.
Never trap crayfish. It is illegal to trap any species of crayfish without authorisation from the Environment Agency.