Pearls in Peril

Freshwater pearl mussels are an important, if slightly obscure, resident in many of our rivers.  Pearl mussels live partly hidden amongst the stones and boulders on the riverbed.  They remain critically endangered across Europe due to threats including pollution, construction work in rivers, climate change and criminal damage. 

Freshwater pearl mussels feeding in a highland river. ©Sue Scott/SNH

Freshwater pearl mussels feeding in a highland river. ©Sue Scott/SNH

The threat from criminal damage is such that, alongside more familiar species such as raptors, pearl mussels are a UK wildlife crime priority.  Criminal damage can come from those looking for very rare pearls, or others who pollute the rivers which are home to pearl mussels.  And sadly, as discovered earlier this month, it’s an ongoing problem.

Not only does criminal damage imperil the survival of many of our most important remaining pearl mussel populations, but it also damages the important salmon and trout populations that live in the same rivers and support many major fisheries.  To address this threat we work closely with the police and National Wildlife Crime Unit to raise awareness of the threat and encourage the reporting of any suspicious activity.

Pearls in Peril is the name of a large project that we have been working on with 20 partner organisations since 2012.  Its ambitious work has helped to conserve many of our most important freshwater pearl mussel populations.  It has done this in many different ways – by removing miles of past bank protection works to restore the right river conditions for pearl mussels and salmon;  and by planting miles of riverside woodlands to also improve conditions in the water for pearl musssels and fish.  We have also reduced pollution by working with farmers to help them provide alternative drinking water for livestock away from rivers, and introducing miles of ‘buffer strips’ between fields and the riverbanks.

Discarded fresh water pearl mussel shells. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Discarded fresh water pearl mussel shells. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

However it is saddening to all involved that these and many other efforts are undermined by the few who still kill and destroy pearl mussel populations in the hope of finding a pearl. The latest such finding was in a remote river near Lochinver just two weeks ago.  Please, if you see anyone acting suspiciously, contact the police.

Find out more about the Pearls in Peril project on the website.

Click here to find your local police contact to report a wildlife crime.

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