Highlands & Islands

Public help sought to protect mussels in Wester Ross

Freshwater pearl mussels Image copyright Sue Scott/SNH
Image caption Freshwater pearl mussels are a protected species

People in Wester Ross have been asked to help a scheme set up to protect rare freshwater pearl mussels.

The molluscs live in the gravel beds of clean rivers and feed by filtering water and removing fine particles.

Riverwatch, a scheme run by Pearls in Peril and involving Police Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, has sought volunteers to monitor for poaching.

A public meeting will be held at the offices of Wester Ross Fisheries Trust in Gairloch on Wednesday.

Illegal freshwater pearl mussel fishing uncovered in Assynt in west Sutherland last year damaged populations of the species "for decades", according to SNH.

Three incidents of poaching were detected on different rivers in the area of west Sutherland.

Image copyright SNh
Image caption Illegal poaching threatens populations of rare mussels

In the worst of the incidents, thousands of empty shells were found.

Natalie Young, of Pearls in Peril, said Wester Ross had some "globally important populations" of pearl mussels.

She said: "It is essential that these mussels are protected from pearl fishing.

"Freshwater pearl mussel populations on the west coast are extremely vulnerable to pollution and illegal fishing.

"The Riverwatch scheme aims to raise awareness of the threat to pearl mussels from illegal exploitation and to train volunteer Riverwatchers how to spot and report pearl mussel crime."

Ch Insp Colin Gough, Police Scotland area commander for south Highland, added: "Illegal pearl fishing has the potential to devastate the fragile populations we have here in the Highlands."

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