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The White-clawed Crayfish is the UK’s only native species of crayfish, a type of crustacean which resembles a small lobster.

They can live to 12 years of age and grow up to 12cm long. Due to pollution, habitat loss and the introduction of the invasive Signal Crayfish to the UK, the White-clawed Crayfish is an endangered species and has suffered dramatic population decline. Its survival is dependent on active conservation – or else it may become completely extinct in the UK.  

The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary has worked closely with the Bristol Zoological Society and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) to ensure the preservation of this species.

White-clawed Crayfish at the new conservation centre.

Where are White-clawed Crayfish found?

Our native crayfish live in shallow freshwater streams. They hide under stones and in small crevices and forage for insects, worms, larvae, and plants. As they require clean and well oxygenated water as well as minerals to fortify their exoskeleton, the presence of White-clawed Crayfish indicates that an ecosystem is healthy. The UK has 85% of the world’s chalk streams, many of which are found in Hampshire.

Why are White-clawed Crayfish endangered?

The chalk streams favoured by White-clawed Crayfish are fragile habitats, which are vulnerable to dry weather. Climate change has put these precious ecosystems at risk. This has lead to habitat loss and population decline for White-clawed Crayfish and other native species. Furthermore, the introduction of North American Signal Crayfish to the UK has exposed native Crayfish to Invasive Crayfish Plague, a disease which they have no natural resistance to. This has led to the decline of the UK population by over 70% since the 1970s.

Recently conservationists from the HIWWT had a startling discovery. A cluster of the white-clawed crayfish were found at a nature reserve in Hampshire, where they were thought to have been wiped out by the plague in 1991 over 30 years earlier. You can read more about this incredible discovery here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/news/endangered-crayfish-rediscovered-first-time-over-30-years  

Inside the new White-clawed Crayfish conservation centre.

How are we helping the White-clawed Crayfish? 

To conserve and protect White-clawed Crayfish, their wild habitat must be carefully managed. This is done by organisations such as the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

White-clawed Crayfish can also be reared in captivity then released back into the wild to strengthen local populations. The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary has partnered with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Bristol Zoo Project to do just that.

A new conservation centre has been established at the Sanctuary, which will house the first ex-situ population of native Crayfish on the Isle of Wight. The aim is not only to supplement existing wild populations, but to establish new populations that can be released into safe havens or ark sites in Hampshire. This will help ensure that Hampshire’s captive Crayfish population is stable and sustainable. Such a feat will be achieved through the development of a combined captive-rearing (the collection of wild-caught females with fertilised eggs) and captive-breeding programme. Our specialised aquatics facility will be accessible to the public, students and researchers from the 27th of January 2024. It requires a sophisticated system of tanks, pumps, pipes, filters, sumps and chillers!

You can read more about our new conservation centre here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/news/conservation-programme-endangered-native-crayfish-gets-isle-wight-boost 

Are White-clawed Crayfish going to be released on the Isle of Wight?

Currently there are no plans to release White-clawed Crayfish into the wild on the Isle of Wight, as there is no record of the species ever having occurred here. Instead, our Sanctuary will provide the first public facing Crayfish facility on the Island. This will provide an opportunity to educate the public about their plight and to raise awareness and support for crayfish and freshwater conservation. As part of the larger Southern Chalk Streams Project, we hope to ensure a future for White-clawed Crayfish and their very special habitat.

Other references

https://www.buglife.org.uk/resources/species-hub/crayfish-hub/south-west-crayfish-partnership/ 

Read about the Sanctuary’s other conservation projects here.

Our partners, sponsors and supporters

We would like thank all of those people and companies that have contributed to this project. Without your support, the new conservation centre would not have been possible. Special mention to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Watercress and Winterbournes project.