‘Pearls in Peril’ (PiP) is an exciting project to save one of our most long-lived animals from extinction; the freshwater pearl mussel (Margartifera margartifera).

The freshwater pearl mussel (FWPM) which can live for more than 100 years is internationally protected and critically endangered. They are indicators of good water quality; if they are at risk, it is a warning that the health of the river is declining.

FWPM is declining dramatically throughout its range and is under grave threat within Britain. Mussel populations have been affected by multiple issues, including wildlife crime, habitat degradation and declining water quality. This project will tackle these threats by implementing best practice conservation methods.

PiP is a four year nationwide project running from September 2012 to September 2016. The project is co-funded by 22 organisations and also by the European Union’s LIFE + NATURE programme. Scottish Natural Heritage is coordinating the project centrally and administering the total project budget of £3.4 million. Issues at 21 rivers will be tackled as part of the project, all of which are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); 19 of the rivers are in Scotland, one in Wales and just one in England, the River Ehen.

The River Ehen in Cumbria is one of the key sites, as it is home to the only breeding and largest population of FWPM left in England. However, this population is in decline and urgent action is needed to prevent their extinction.

In England, West Cumbria Rivers Trust (WCRT), the Environment Agency (EA), United Utilities (UU), and Lake District National Park (LDNP) are funding the project. WCRT is responsible for delivering the project in partnership with the EA and with support of other organisations.