‘Pearls in Peril’ appeal to help flood-hit mussels

One of the adult mussels left stranded after floodwater receded on the River Dee. (Picture by Annie Espie.)

One of the adult mussels left stranded after floodwater receded on the River Dee. (Picture by Annie Espie.)

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A conservation group wants people in north east Scotland to help rescue freshwater pearl mussels stranded due to recent flooding.

The rare mussels are found in more than 100 rivers and burns in Scotland but in particular the Pearls in Peril project has appealed for help with strandings as a result of flooding around the Rivers South Esk and Dee.

“Pearl mussels are already under threat and in some areas just clinging on so any help people can give could make a real difference,” said Lorna Wilkie, Pearl in Peril’s project officer in the area.

“At this time of year they might last about a day out of the water but if the weather was to freeze overnight they wouldn’t survive.

“Because of the extent of the flooding there are areas that we just can’t get to so it is difficult to assess the extent of the situation or carry out rescues ourselves but there have been sightings around the Dee and South Esk.”

The advice from Pearls in Peril is to note how many are found and the location, with photographs if possible, and throw any live mussels (those that are closed) back into the river.

A juvenile freshwater pearl mussel which was returned to the River Dee. (Picture by Annie Espie.)

A juvenile freshwater pearl mussel which was returned to the River Dee. (Picture by Annie Espie.)

However, Lorna stressed that people should not endanger themselves by going too near or even going into the river.

“The last thing we want if for people to risk their own safety which is why we’re advising them to throw the mussels rather than place them in the water - it at least gives them a chance.”

Freshwater pearl mussels play a crucial role in keeping rivers clean, which helps other species like salmon and trout. They live in the gravel beds and feed by filtering water and removing particles, which cleans the rivers.

They can grow up to 15cms in length and live for up to 120 years.

Two juveniles on an adult freshwater pearl mussel, which can reach up to 15cms in length and live to 120 years.

Two juveniles on an adult freshwater pearl mussel, which can reach up to 15cms in length and live to 120 years.

Numbers had been decimated by more than 95% until the late 1990s and they are now fully protected.

It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or disturb freshwater pearl mussels or damage their habitat.

A survey by Scottish Natural Heritage last year confirmed the mussels could already be extinct from 11 Scottish rivers where they were previously recorded and appeared to be declining nationwide.

The prime culprits are pearl fishing, low numbers of fish, climate change, poor water and river alterations.

Maps identifying crime hotspots have been prepared to help Police Scotland target illegal pearl fishers. The maps highlight 33 incidents of criminality from 2010 to 2014, and identify the areas in which most criminal activity has taken place.