'Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers' reports now available

12/02/2004

All you ever needed to know about
Natura 2000 Rivers....

by Lynn Parr
English Nature

EVER WONDERED how to reintroduce the endangered white-clawed crayfish to waterways where it has become extinct? Or the best way to monitor a riverine Special Area of Conservation? And where exactly does an otter like to breed?

The answers to these and many more questions that have plagued freshwater ecologists and river managers can be found in a fantastic new resource: the 44 publications, CD-ROMs and website of Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers.

This mammoth four-year project, sponsored by seven British conservation agencies led by English Nature, consisted of field-based trials, original research and the collation of up-to-the minute scientific discoveries. The result is a body of work that conservation organizations around Europe can use to achieve best practice in managing their special rivers and threatened freshwater species. The publications were officially launched at the World Wetlands Day conference on February 2 in London.

Pearl mussel partners

One of the most important discoveries made by researchers for Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers was how the complicated relationship between the endangered freshwater pearl mussel and juvenile salmonids really works. Under the right conditions, pearl mussels can live to be a hundred years old, but they have declined across Europe due to illegal pearl fishing and river deterioration. Scotland now has almost half the world's viable populations. Scientists knew that mussel larvae, or glochidia, attach themselves to the gill filaments of young trout or salmon, where they can grow in relative safety for nearly a year. Now, after successfully breeding pearl mussels under controlled conditions, researchers know that density of these host fish is crucial to the abundance and survival of the pearl mussel. This new information may prove critical in preventing the extinction of this unusual species.

Practical protocols

Other important guidelines to come out of Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers include a field key to identifying river, brook and sea lamprey in all their life stages. Researchers are already using this unique key to study these ancient fish, which are notoriously difficult to find and identify, due to their numerous life stages and cryptic habits.

The white-clawed crayfish is another freshwater species on the verge of extinction in many areas. Once common around Europe, it has gradually lost ground to introduced non-native species such as the large, aggressive signal crayfish from North America. Now only a few streams in northern England are free of the aliens. Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers initiated several projects to study the white-clawed crayfish, and investigate whether it is feasible to reintroduce it to streams free of aliens. After successful introductions to a river in England, researchers are hopeful that the white-clawed crayfish can be saved.

Other work in the Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers Conservation Techniques Series include a set of five reports on monitoring siltation in rivers, a geomorphological audit, identifying and managing otter breeding sites, and how to construct a river conservation strategy.

Remarkable rivers

Seven UK rivers that are candidate Special Areas of Conservation were studied in detail by Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers project officers. Each has several features of European importance, ranging from the pearl mussel in the River Borgie, Scotland, to the Atlantic salmon in the River Teifi, Wales. The resulting reports present a strategy for each river that will enable managers to monitor and protect their special features for future generations.

The full-colour Conserving Natura 2000 Rivers reports are available from the Enquiry Service, English Nature, Northminster House, Peterborough PE1 1UA. Tel: 01733 455000. Email: enquiries@english-nature.org.uk. They are also available online at www.riverlife.org.uk.

Dr. Lynn Parr
Technical Editor, English Nature
Life in UK Rivers
Countryside Council for Wales
Maes-y-Ffynnon, Ffordd Penrhos
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW
Email l.parr@ccw.gov.uk

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