A TEAM of experts from Bristol Zoo have collaborated with Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to help bolster dwindling numbers of crayfish in UK waterways.

Their first project saw over one-hundred adult crayfish released into the River Itchen in Hampshire after being reared from eggs at Bristol Zoo.

White-clawed crayfish are the only species of crayfish native to the UK. They are at risk of becoming extinct from Great Britain in the next 20 years and are protected by law.

The River Itchen has one of the last remaining white-clawed crayfish populations in Hampshire. They are under threat due to the spread of a disease which is deadly to white-clawed crayfish.

Jen Nightingale, Bristol Zoo’s UK conservation manager said; “We have worked so hard at the Zoo to successfully breed this endangered species, and we are thrilled to see them return to their natural habitat.”

As well as releasing captive-born crayfish into the river, conservationists caught ‘berried’’ (egg-carrying) female crayfish to bring back to the Zoo.

Jen said: “At the Zoo we can offer safe, stable conditions and we have a 90 per cent success rate with hatching and rearing crayfish from eggs.”

“Knowing that we can keep them and their hatchlings safe and raise them to adulthood is a fantastic feeling. Captive populations are paramount in the effort to halt the threat of extinction of this species.”

Dr Ben Rushbrook of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, leads white-clawed crayfish conservation work in Hampshire through the Trust’s Southern Chalkstream project, which aims to protect precious and rare chalkstream habitats.

Ben said “since working with Jen and her team at Bristol Zoological Society, we have been able to take significant steps in the conservation of this species in Hampshire that simply weren’t possible before this collaborative work”.

“These steps are likely to be critical in ensuring the long-term survival of this species in Hampshire.”

To help stop the spread of invasive plants and animals, from one water body to another, conservationists are urging the public to ensure they check, clean and dry all equipment, shoes and clothing that have been used in or around waterways.