Wild Planet Trust

Wild Planet Trust helps endangered species thrive in Devon

Posted: 3rd March, 2023

Wild Planet Trust has been helping to boost numbers of the endangered white-clawed crayfish by releasing captive bred animals into ‘ark sites’ in East Devon.

The Culm and Creedy-Yeo rivers are the only places in Devon where white-clawed crayfish are currently clinging on to survival. Research shows that, without help, white-clawed crayfish could disappear from Devon – and the UK – within a few years. They are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and are protected under European and UK legislation.

Their disappearance would be devastating, as white-clawed crayfish are a keystone species of UK rivers and streams. Their presence indicates good water quality and they have a valuable role in the ecosystem, providing food for larger animals like otters. 

However, these native crayfish are being pushed to extinction by pollution, habitat degradation and invasive non-native species such as the American signal crayfish. These larger animals – which were first introduced to the UK in the 1970s – not only outcompete white-clawed crayfish for food and territory, but they are also responsible for spreading the deadly ‘crayfish plague’.

Worryingly, crayfish plague DNA has recently been confirmed in the River Culm which could wipe out the local population of white-clawed crayfish in a matter of months.

Wild Planet Trust has been helping to ensure the survival of the white-clawed crayfish by creating ark sites – safe, self-contained locations – in East Devon, and releasing breeding-age individuals into these sites. 

Since 2019, approximately 50 animals have been bred by the Bristol Zoological Society and released, under licence, into an ark site in the River Culm catchment, with the hopes that populations will not only increase, but become self-sustaining. Wild Planet Trust is now planning to develop more ark sites around the Creedy and Yeo rivers to enable these highly threatened animals have a secure future in Devon.

The project has been run in collaboration with Bristol Zoological Society, the Environment Agency, local crayfish specialist Dr Nicky Green, the Blackdown Hills AONB and the South West Crayfish Partnership. Volunteers from the local community also helped by surveying the river for both native and invasive crayfish, carrying out extensive water-quality checks, and preparing the ark sites for release.

Now that the ark sites have been established and breeding-age crayfish have been introduced, Wild Planet Trust and the Blackdown Hills AONB will continue to actively monitor and maintain the site to assess the health of the population.

Dr Tracey Hamston, Wild Planet Trust Conservation Officer, said: “White-clawed crayfish are an important part of the local ecosystem, and establishing these ark sites, as well as the release of breeding age animals, is a vital step to securing the future of the species.”

To find out more about the project, and how to get involved, people are invited to attend a special community evening on Wednesday, 15 March between 7pm and 9pm. The free event will take place at the Boniface Centre in Crediton, and there will be free refreshments, along with talks and information stands. For more information, go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/creedy-catchment-crayfish-conservation-project-community-evening-tickets-526779952017

Wild Planet Trust is a charitable organisation that is helping to halt species decline both here in the UK, as well as internationally. The Trust also runs both Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

For more information about the project and Wild Planet Trust, go to: www.wildplanettrust.org.uk

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