A secret operation to reintroduce freshwater pearl mussels to two rivers in the Cairngorms National Park has been carried out over the past month – and according to experts – the early indications are that the operation has been a success.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), sporting estates and fisheries boards have come together in a bid to revive the species’ fortunes in the area. The project is being funded jointly by the CNPA, the Cairngorms LEADER+ programme, SNH and the Dee and Spey District Fisheries Boards.
The globally threatened pearl mussels play an important role in maintaining healthy rivers and have been reintroduced under special licence to two sites in the Park, where it is hoped they will thrive.
The secrecy surrounding the locations for the reintroduction of the freshwater pearl mussels, which are of european and global significance, is because the mussels are still under threat from criminal activity (illegal pearl fishing). The only information that can be given is that the sites are somewhere close to the River Dee on Invercauld Estate and the River Spey on the Strathspey Estate.
Freshwater pearl mussels were given full legal protection in 1998. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or disturb freshwater pearl mussels or to damage their habitat.
Dr Peter Cosgrove of the CNPA explained: “After hundreds of years in decline, this exciting project will see pearl mussels back in rivers from where they were lost. This is important not only for the two rivers in question, but for the lessons we learn which will help us when we try to re-establish mussels elsewhere.”
SNH’s Dr Phil Boon said: “Freshwater pearl mussels are one of Scotland’s most endangered species, yet we still have around half the world’s population. Reintroduction in a suitable river is one important way which can help to boost the numbers of freshwater pearl mussels, and it’s great news that this project is showing early signs of success. Our biggest threat to their future survival is from criminals who continue to take mussels in search of pearls, despite the full legal protection for this species. We would urge anyone who spots people pearl fishing in Scotland to inform the police or your local SNH officer.”
Dr James Butler of the Spey District Salmon Fishery Board commented: “The freshwater pearl mussels feed by drawing in river water and filtering out fine particles, with an adult being able to filter about 50 litres of water a day, and they play an important part in the ecology of rivers. Healthy rivers mean healthy fish stocks, so the freshwater pearl mussels’ presence in the Park is likely to be good in the long term for salmon fisheries, which contribute £11 million annually to the Strathspey economy alone.”
Adrian Hudson, who works with the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board added: “We are very pleased to be involved in restoring populations of freshwater pearl mussels to areas of good habitat where they have been lost. Freshwater pearl mussels play an important role as an environmental indicator, and it will be great to return them to their former glory.”