Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Threat to One of the Rarest Creatures; Pearl Mussel Brought the Romans North

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Threat to One of the Rarest Creatures; Pearl Mussel Brought the Romans North

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Hunt

ONE of the North East's rarest creatures is under serious threat according to a conservation group. Natural England says numbers of the fresh water pearl mussel are declining at an alarming rate.

Experts say one of the reasons the first Roman invasion of Britain took place around 55BC was because they thought the rivers were full of pearls.

According to comments recorded at the time, Julius Caesar was particularly fond of pearls and the British fresh water pearl mussel was a compelling reason in persuading the Romans to come to the region.

When the Romans were stationed at Hadrian's Wall the freshwater pearl mussel was widespread in the UK, but recent research has revealed that most former populations in the North East to be virtually extinct. Today, the region's remaining population of fresh water pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera, including one of the largest and most significant colonies in the UK, is under serious threat, says Natural England.

The pearl mussel is now a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act which means it is illegal for people to disturb them, remove them from their habitats, kill mussels and to fish for, or sell pearls.

But despite this safeguard, research confirms fears that the youngest of the remaining colonies in Northumberland is estimated to be a 30 years of age, suggesting that no new juveniles have survived since the 1970s.

Pearl mussels can live for more than 100 years making them one of the longest lived known invertebrates. But with no young mussels to halt the decline, it was feared that the species could become extinct in our region's rivers unless something was done to secure and improve suitable river habitats.

Now experts from Natural England are working with the Tyne Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency all along the River Rede which runs through Northumberland National Park to help reverse the decline of England's second largest known population.

Pearl mussels are particularly sensitive to their environment and survive by burying themselves in beds of clean, fast flowing rivers in only a handful of sites in the country. …

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