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12 December, 2014

Action to create better conditions for freshwater pearl mussels

Work to create better conditions for internationally important freshwater pearl mussels in an area of significant decline is underway.

It follows recent survey work at the River Spey that detected a 50% decline in the freshwater pearl mussel population.

This disappointing downward trend has been attributed to water quality, the plant water crowfoot, fluctuating water levels, and wildlife crime.

However, work to identify suitable water quality and flow targets that will support the conservation objectives for freshwater pearl mussel has begun. It involves Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA).

It is expected that suitable targets will be included in the second Scotland River Basin Management Plan. This management plan, which will be published at the end of 2015, includes targets for further improving the condition of our water environment. Other work includes a trial by the Spey Fishery Board to find a means of managing water crowfoot.

The population decline means the River Spey Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will be considered to be in unfavourable condition.

That places a duty on SNH to seek ways of improving the site for the protected species.

Iain Sime, SNH’s freshwater and wetlands group manager, said: “The work we are doing with SEPA and the CNPA aims to better understand some of these issues, particularly that of water quality.

“It is very disappointing to see this effect on the freshwater pearl mussels. They are globally rare and an extremely valuable indicator of water quality – their presence at any level means we have water that is of benefit to people, plants and species.

“But what is important is that we are working towards a resolution. All three organisations are throwing their collective weight behind this work.

“What we have to do now is set out priorities for the SAC in light of the second Scotland River Basin Plan and ensure that collaborative work to arrest and reverse this dramatic decline continues.”

Hamish Trench, CNPA's director of conservation and visitor experience, said: "The River Spey is hugely important for people and nature so the decline in freshwater pearl mussel is particularly disappointing. We are pleased to be working with SNH and SEPA to take a catchment level approach to ensuring the Spey functions as a healthy river system. The work underway will help guide a long term approach to tackling some of the pressures on the river."

Anne Anderson, area manager (north) for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said: "We are pleased with the progress achieved so far in improving the water environment of the River Spey.

"SEPA is committed to protecting the water environment and we will continue to work in partnership with all relevant organisations, and stakeholders, to help ensure the required improvements in the Spey are delivered. The publication of the second Scotland River Basin Management Plan will seek to meet these challenges with targeted actions."

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