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Friday, 3 June 2016

Endangered mussels off to the ark

Vital work to safeguard Yorkshire’s last remaining population of freshwater pearl mussels has been carried out on the River Esk.

Twenty adult mussels were taken from the river to a captive breeding facility at the Freshwater Biological Association in the Lake District. The facility provides an ‘ark'  to conserve dwindling populations and to rear juvenile mussels through captive breeding for reintroduction to their native rivers.

The Esk is the only river in Yorkshire with a freshwater pearl mussel population with only an estimated thousand left and in drastic decline. Pollution, choking of the river bed by sediment build up, a deterioration in fish numbers and habitat degradation are all reasons for the decline..

Simon Hirst, Esk project officer with the North York Moors National Park Authority, said: “Hopefully, the adult mussels will breed in the Lake District, and in seven or so years we will be able to re-introduce these mussels back to the River Esk.

"FPM (freshwater pearl mussels) are an important indicator species; if we get conditions right in the river for them, it will have positive knock on benefits for a range of other wildlife such as otters, Atlantic salmon, dippers and kingfishers.”

As well as the captive breeding work, the project is working with farmers to reduce sediment and nutrient input into the Esk. By 2018, it is hoped that sections of the Esk will have been restored and suitable habitat will be available which can accommodate the return of juvenile mussels.

This work has been given a helping hand in the shape of a £300,000 grant from Biffa Award. The grant forms part of a larger £1.5 million Biffa Award project led by the Freshwater Biological Association that will also see river restoration carried out in a number of FPM catchments in Cumbria and Devon.

Gillian French, Biffa's head of grants, said: "This project is an exciting opportunity to save one of the most long-lived animals from extinction; the freshwater pearl mussel can live for more than 100 years and is internationally protected”.

The Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund.

The River Esk empties into the North Sea at Whitby after a course of around 28 miles.

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