Endangered crayfish rediscovered for first time in over 30 years - Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

Wildlife Trust conservationists chance upon rare white-clawed crayfish at a nature reserve in Hampshire where the species was last recorded in 1991

Conservationists have discovered a cluster of rare and endangered crayfish at a nature reserve in Hampshire that were thought to have died out from the site over 30 years ago.

The remarkable finding at Winnall Moors Nature Reserve comes more than three decades since white-clawed crayfish – the UK’s only native crayfish species – were thought to have vanished from the area in 1991 after a deadly plague wiped out local populations.

For decades, conservationists have worked to recover white-clawed crayfish populations given their numbers have declined by about 70% in the UK since the 1970s due to pollution, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native crayfish.

A group of reserves officers and volunteers for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust made the discovery while carrying out routine habitat management at the reserve in Winchester.

The team were removing a willow tree from the water to improve river flow, and as they hauled out the tree’s root ball – which was about the size of a large pumpkin – a group of what looked like ‘mini lobsters’ tumbled off it.

The team’s first – and major – concern, however, was whether they had just unearthed a group of signal crayfish, an invasive species from North America that are now widespread in UK rivers.

Signal crayfish carry a disease called crayfish plague, which they are largely resistant to but is lethal to white-clawed crayfish and has been the primary cause of our native species’ demise.

Rachel Remnant, Reserves Officer for the Trust, and who was part of the team who discovered the crayfish, said: “Signal crayfish are known to occur roughly one kilometre away from where we were, so initially our worry was they had moved into the area and that’s what we’d found.

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Posted On: 27/01/2022

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