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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Experts plan mussel 'matchmaking'
Freshwater mussels
Mussels do breed successfully in Scotland and Ireland
Nature experts are planning to set up a shellfish "introduction agency" to save rare mussels.

The freshwater pearl mussel is on the brink of extinction in England and Wales because of their difficulty in finding mates.

Scientists have been called to Warrington in Cheshire by the Environment Agency and English Nature to discuss the crisis.

They plans to set a scheme where the isolated mussels are put on a river bed to encourage "group sex".

The mussels reproductive process relies on large numbers of males releasing sperm into water that is filtered by the females

The mussels do breed successfully in Scotland and Ireland, but if they fail to revive their love life in the north and west of England and in Wales they will become extinct.

This is a rare species that is under threat... to lose it would be a tragedy
Anne Lewis, Environment Agency
"Conservation bodies have reached a point where some very hard decisions need to be made," said the Environment Agency's Anne Lewis.

"We can't simply monitor these populations until they become extinct. We need to take active measures to prolong their existence."

"This is a rare species that is under threat around the world, not just here. To lose it would be a tragedy."

In Irish and Scottish rivers breeding pearl mussels are found together in dense beds.

Pearl fishing

Because the mussels have become separated in England and Wales, most are now middle aged or elderly and need to breed before they die out.

The mussels do produce pearls, and Julius Caesar's love of the pearls is reputed to have been a factor in the first Roman invasion of Britain in 55BC.

Pearl fishing, although illegal now, has been cited as one factor in reducing the density of populations and causing the breeding problems.

Study dives for pearl's history
27 Feb 03  |  Scotland
Pearl shellfish face extinction
08 Oct 02  |  Scotland
Rats get taste for shellfish
18 Sep 01  |  UK News

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