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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Funding to save rare pearl mussel
Pearl mussels
Pearl mussels are vanishing from rivers
Scientists at Queen's University in Belfast have been given funding to help save the freshwater pearl mussel.

This mussel is an endangered species all over the world and it is feared it may become extinct if it is not protected.

The scientists hope to breed about a million young mussels for re-introduction to rivers in NI.

The three-year project will be carried out at the Ballinderry Fish Hatchery in County Tyrone.

Scientists at Quercus, the Research Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at Queen's are taking part in the project.

Freshwater pearl mussels were once common in many rivers in Northern Ireland but habitat degradation, deteriorating water quality, decreasing abundance of host fish and pearl fishing have been blamed for the drop in numbers.

Recent surveys have identified small populations remaining in only a few river systems.

Research suggests that this globally endangered species will disappear from Northern Ireland unless adequate protection and management is provided.

Significance

Dr Jane Preston, principal scientific investigator, said the project would make a "significant contribution" towards stabilising and improving the status of the freshwater pearl mussel .

"Pearl mussels are an important part of our social heritage and have a cultural significance beyond their ecological importance," she said.

Graham Seymour, director of natural heritage in the Environment and Heritage Service, said the project would build on previous research.

"We aim to expand the current hatchery system at Ballinderry into a semi-natural, riverine habitat in a nearby mill race and to investigate the feasibility of re-introduction of mussels into suitable rivers," he said.


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