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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Cumbria in frontline of fight to save rare mussels

Experts are drawing up a blueprint for future water supplies in west Cumbria after discovering endangered pearl mussels were being killed.

Pearl mussels photo
Pearl mussels

The River Ehen, which flows through Copeland, is home to England’s largest and healthiest population of the mussels but falling water levels have put their presence in greater danger, according to Buglife, a wildlife charity.

The Environment Agency is investigating why stocks are falling but Buglife wants a public inquiry into what it calls the “devastating loss.”

The conservation charity blames a drastic drop in water levels in the outflow from Ennerdale Water reservoir into the Ehen.

It says the levels fell to such a low level that the water became hot and this led to oxygen levels dropping to dangerous levels, resulting in up to 90 per cent of pearl mussels being killed.

Matt Shardlow, the charity’s chief executive, said it was ‘devastating news.’

“The bloated corpses of animals born when Charles Darwin was alive have been floating out of their beds and being swept into the Irish Sea,” he said.

United Utilities, the Environment Agency, the West Cumbria Rivers Trust and Natural England met in Penrith last week to discuss how best to protect the environment – and keep water on tap for 150,000 households.

United Utilities said a colony of freshwater mussels ‘suffered severe stress’ in June, leading to some being killed.

“It is thought low water levels in the River Ehen may have contributed to the incident, even though the amount of water being put into the river was above the agreed and legally required levels,” they said.

“The Environment Agency, Natural England, United Utilities and West Cumbria Rivers Trust are working closely to help the mussel population recover and thrive in the short and medium term. In the long term, major investment in new infrastructure to create or connect alternative sources of water will help protect delicate habitats like these even more.”

John Wilson of West Cumbria Rivers Trust said the meeting heard that the mussel population had improved since June.

“This is good news and we have to get water levels right, but there are more factors at play than simply the amount and speed of water in the river,” he added.

Water and environment bosses will now start drawing up potential options for future management of water resources in west Cumbria before consulting with the community.

Pearl mussels can live for 100 years and have declined in various parts of the country.

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