Conserving our Mussels

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

The Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project has been going since  2007. The aim of the Project is to conserve the population of the protected Freshwater Pearl Mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) in the River Esk by improving the riparian habitat and at the same time raising awareness of this fascinating creature. The environmental improvements will also benefit Atlantic salmon and brown trout populations which are so important to the life cycle of the mussel.

SONDE equipment being installed

SONDE equipment being installed

Water quality monitoring equipment (SONDE) was installed in February on the River Esk. This equipment will measure a variety of water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, nitrate, suspended solids and pH. This work will help us to identify suitable re-introduction sites for the captive bred juvenile freshwater pearl mussels.

This year is the 5th year of the “Salmon in the Classroom” initiative which sees the Project and our Education Service joining up with local primary schools to rear salmon. This year it is the turn of Egton Primary School to host a tank containing 40 Atlantic salmon eggs. The children will look after the fish through the various stages of development (eggs, alevins and fry) and then release them into the Esk later in the year.

Conifers alongside Commondale Beck - see the lack of understory vegetation

Conifers alongside Commondale Beck – see the lack of understory vegetation

One of the National Park Authority’s Volunteer teams focuses particularly on the River Esk carrying out some of the necessary environmental improvements. In the last couple of months the River Esk Volunteer team has caried out three tasks involving conifer thinning and tree planting. Conifer thinning in woodlands next to Commondale Beck was carried out to allow light to get into the understory and allow the native ground flora to re-establish which should help stabilise the soil and reduce the amount of silt getting into the Beck and into the River Esk downstream.

Conifer removal and native broadleaved planting on Lealholm Estate

Conifer removal and native broadleaved planting on Lealholm Estate

On Lealholm Estate, following conifer felling work, broad-leaved tree planting has been carried out in the understory. A total of 300 trees have been planted.

At Southside Farm near Egton Bridge a total of 1095 metres of fencing has been erected. This work will create an important buffer strip between the farmed land and river corridor. Further fencing work and improvement work will be carried out later this Spring.

For further information on the plight of the pearl mussel there is an interesting article at http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/features/story.aspx?id=1283

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