The freshwater mussel, 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 mussels which are at risk of extinction soon if nothing is done to arrest the population decline. Freshwater 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 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.
West Cumbria Rivers Trust have been working within the catchment since 2015 in partnership with farmers, landowners and local community groups. Between 2015 and 2018 funding was secured from Biffa Award, National Trust, NuGEN, United Utilities, Woodland Trust and Drigg and Carleton Community Fund.
Since 2018 funding has been secured from the Environment Agency and United Utilities.