Leading British wildlife conservation charity, Wildwood Trust, has been granted £10,452 by the Devon Environment Foundation (DEF) to establish a crayfish hatchery at its Devon park.
The crayfish hatchery and nursery, based at Wildwood Devon in Ottery St Mary, aims to restore population numbers of endangered white-clawed crayfish - the UK’s only indigenous freshwater crayfish. Sadly, this species has seen a decline of nearly 80% in the south west in just 50 years.
DEF’s grant means that Wildwood Devon will be in a position to trial a 12-week programme to repurpose some unused purpose-built koi tanks. At any one time, these will house up to 20 female crayfish - also known as berried females due to the way they carry their eggs on the underside of their abdomen.
Charly Mead, Conservation Manager at Wildwood Devon, said: “White-clawed crayfish play a pivotal role in cleaning and restoring parts of our riverways. Without intervention, they could go extinct in the near future.
“Our hatchery will allow young crayfish to be raised in a safe environment until they are ready to be moved to protected areas with a fighting chance of survival.”
The sharp decline in white-clawed crayfish has been caused by habitat degradation, pollution and changes to water quality. However, the most significant driver has been disease and predation by non-native signal crayfish, which were introduced to the UK in the late 70’s by our government to support food production for commercial export. The signal crayfish have since thrived in our fresh waterways, eliminating vast amounts of our own native species.
The first project of its kind undertaken at Wildwood, the charity has been working with a variety of crayfish specialist partners including conservationist Jen Nightingale to ensure conditions in the hatchery are right for captive rearing and breeding. It is expected that the hatchery at Wildwood Devon will support up to 500 viable crayfish for release each year. Crayfish will be released to other safe ark sites and into the River Creedy to be monitored as part of the Creedy Catchment Crayfish project.
For more information, visit wildwoodtrust.org/crayfish.