Following the upgrading of the UK native White clawed crayfish from â€˜Vulnerable' to â€˜Endangered' on the IUCN Red List, scientists and conservationists met last month to discuss the future of this species.
The Conference entitled: ‘Species Survival: Securing white-clawed crayfish in a changing environment’ was held at Bristol Zoo Gardens and hosted by the South West Crayfish Project. Over 80 delegates attended with the aim of bringing together projects and experts to ensure the survival of this endangered species.
White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) are the UK’s only native freshwater crayfish, but their numbers have suffered extensive decline in recent years, mainly due to competition from, and plague carried by, North American signal crayfish.
Already up to 70 per cent of White-clawed crayfish have between lost from the south west and some parts of the UK have lost their entire populations. Experts warn the species could become extinct in Great Britain within the next 30 years.
An opening address was given by wildlife ecologist and television presenter, Nick Baker who said: "If we lose this species it would have huge implications on all of our lives because we depend on the rivers inhabited by the White-clawed crayfish and their existence is an indicator of the health of our rivers. This really is a hugely important species and we must do all we can to protect it."
One of the key events at the conference has been the proposal of a declaration calling on UK Government and funders to support essential conservation work to secure the future of the species and related ecosystems.
Neil Maddison, Head of Conservation Programmes for Bristol Zoo, added that if the UK lost the White clawed crayfish: "…this would send a catastrophic message to the rest of the world that the UK is unable to protect its own biodiversity. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and as one of the world’s G20 countries, we have a stated commitment, and must be prepared to back this up with appropriate resources for protecting our wildlife."
The South West Crayfish Project is currently running the largest strategic translocation in the UK to date, re-homing at-risk populations of White-clawed crayfish to new, safer sites.
In addition, a breeding programme for the crayfish is being developed at Bristol Zoo Gardens. The South West Crayfish Project is a partnership between the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, Avon Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, and is funded by Natural England, Biffaward and Bristol Water. Other attendees included Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), Environment Agency, Natural England and renowned experts such as David Rogers, Stephanie Peay and Catherine Souty-Grosset.