The freshwater pearl mussel (FPM) which can live for more than 100 years is internationally protected and critically endangered. The River Irt in West Cumbria is home to a very small population of freshwater pearl mussels which are at risk of extinction soon if nothing is done to arrest the population decline. Freshwater pearl mussels are an incredibly important species due to their unusual reproductive cycle , linkages to Cumbrian heritage and being one of the longest living invertebrates on the planet. These mussels are indicators of pristine water quality; if a population is at risk, it is a warning that the health of the river is not as good as it has been in recent history.
Unfortunately the freshwater pearl mussel is declining dramatically throughout its range and is under grave threat within Britain. Mussel populations have been affected by multiple issues, including wildlife crime, habitat degradation and declining water quality. This project will tackle these threats by implementing best practice conservation methods by working with farmers, landowners and local community groups.
The Irt Pearl Mussel Project is a three year program running from February 2015 to February 2018 co-ordinated by the Freshwater Biological Association and funded by Biffa Award. West Cumbria Rivers Trust is working alongside partners in three other areas (South Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Devon) where pearl mussel populations are also declining. The overall aim of the project is to restore habitat in pearl mussel rivers and improve the overall quality of mussel rivers in order to reverse the decline.