A local Devon conservation charity is coming to the aid of native species that are under threat from its bolder American cousins.

The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, based at Paignton Zoo, and that is responsible for 3 other zoos across the South West has teamed up with Bristol Zoo Gardens to help white-clawed crayfish.

70 Native British Crayfish

Unnoticed by tens of thousands of visitors to Paignton Zoo, in a small building that previously stabled jungle cattle, stand two big vats.

Within these vats is about 1200 litres of fresh water and around 70 native British Crayfish.

Some of the zoo keepers have named these tanks Fifty Shades of Cray and Cray David.

Largest Freshwater Invertebrates

The white-clawed Crayfish or Austropotamobius pallipes, to give them their Latin name.  Is the largest freshwater invertebrates in the UK.

However these, not so beautiful creatures, are at risk of being extinct in the wild due to the introduction of the American signal Crayfish, which out-competes that of the British counterpart for food and can carry a killer plague.

Dr. Tracey Hamston, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK Conservation Officer said:

We have a chance to save this species for Devon. The situation is urgent – if it becomes extinct in the county then another small piece of our natural heritage mosaic will be gone. This is a shy, reclusive species that few people know about – but it has an important role in the freshwater ecosystem because of what it eats and what in turn eats it. The species is also an important indicator of good water quality.

There are only two rivers left in Devon where you can find this species in the wild. There are populations elsewhere in England and on the Continent, but it is in severe decline in many parts of its range.

Previous Trials on native crayfish

Paignton Zoo is no stranger to the Crayfish species and has already trialled work on the crayfish with the Environment Agency and the charity Buglife.

However the new phase has a great focus on the potential to breed these animals.  The Zoo, with partners Bristol Zoo and ecologist and crayfish specialist Nicky Green, is working with the Culm Community Crayfish Project.

Crayfish often come from berried (egg bearing) females taken, temporarily, from a site on the River Culm in East Devon.

The river is also home to signal crayfish, though luckily no crayfish plague is currently present within these waters.

The plan is to release the Zoo crayfish higher up the Culm catchment.

White clawed Crayfish are protected by law and is recognised as Endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature

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