€3 million Cumbria Crayfish Project bid

A €3 million (£2.6 million) funding bid to save the native crayfish in Cumbria has been submitted to Europe by Eden Rivers Trust and South Cumbria Rivers Trust.

If successful, the funding would be used to improve the condition of Cumbria’s rivers, particularly the Eden and the Kent and their tributaries, for native crayfish and other wildlife.  The majority of the money would go into practical conservation work such as riverside fencing, tree planting and improvements on farms which will benefit the river. 

The native, white-clawed crayfish is endangered and rapidly declining across Western Europe.  It is being wiped out by non-native species of crayfish, particularly the North American signal crayfish, and the disease they carry, crayfish plague, which is caused by a fungus.  Native crayfish are also disappearing because many of the rivers in which they occur do not have the right conditions for them to feed, breed and thrive.  Other threats arise from water pollution and low water levels in our rivers.

Cumbria contains the UK's only extensive populations of white-clawed crayfish with neither a plague infestation, nor the presence of non-native signal crayfish.  The most important of these are in the Rivers Eden and Kent.  Cumbria is vital in a European context because it remains the UK stronghold for the native species.

White-clawed crayfishThe application for €3 million has been made to the European Life+ Nature programme which funds environmental and nature conservation projects across the EU.  The project has received full endorsement from both the Environment Agency and Natural England but the outcome will not be known until spring 2012.

Joanne Backshall, Conservation Officer with Eden Rivers Trust, said, “This amazing creature is threatened with extinction across Europe, and Cumbria has the best remaining populations in the UK.  Improving the rivers in the county for crayfish will benefit not only this endangered species but all the wildlife associated with our rivers.”

“Healthy, attractive rivers are also of benefit to people in providing clean water supplies, promoting leisure activities such as walking, bird watching, angling and canoeing, and creating beautiful landscapes to attract tourists and renew the spirit!”

Peter Evoy, Manager of South Cumbria Rivers Trust, said, “Cumbria is extremely important for the native white-clawed crayfish and we hope that this funding bid will ensure it continues to thrive in our local rivers.”

Eden Rivers Trust has been working to protect the native crayfish in the Eden Valley for the last four years. This is thanks to two projects funded by SITA Trust, an organisation which supports environmental projects through the Landfill Communities Fund.  This distributes funds donated by the recycling and resource management company SITA UK.

Last summer 28 excellent volunteers helped Eden Rivers Trust to survey over 60 sites for crayfish, putting in a total of 55 volunteer days.  The Trust is extremely grateful to them for their time and interest, as well as to all land owners who allowed the surveyors on to their land.

South Cumbria Rivers Trust has also been involved in native crayfish conservation for several years.  As part of this work it has established a live crayfish exhibit at Brockhole National Park Visitor Centre near Windermere.