MSP expresses concern about pearl mussel numbers

Mary Scanlon, Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has spoken of her concern at a continued fall in numbers of the freshwater pearl mussel, one of Scotland’s most endangered molluscs.

Mary, who is also a species champion for the freshwater pearl mussel as a part of the Parliament’s Species Champions initiative, spoke as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published the results of its recent survey on the subject.

SNH’s report highlighted that the pearl mussel may now be extinct from several rivers in Scotland where they were previously recorded as breeding, and that numbers in other rivers nationwide appear to be declining nationwide.

The report also identified illegal pearl fishing, low freshwater fish numbers, climate change and poor water quality as reasons behind the decline.

Commenting, Mary said: “It is regretful to see that a species as special as this is at such high risk in parts of Scotland.

“The Highlands and Islands have a particular responsibility to protect freshwater pearl mussels given that a significant proportion of the global population are living in highland waters.”

“The profile of the species has been raised considerably in recent years and it is largely due to the work of SNH that most of the rivers with pearl mussels still show signs that the population is breeding.”

“Illegal pearl fishing is only a part of the reason behind the decline and I am glad that SNH are working with Police Scotland to tackle this problem.”

“However, planning authorities can and must do more to protect the species. They must ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments take full account of the freshwater pearl mussel as well as the quality of the water.

“We must ensure that engineering work in rivers and planned energy schemes do not result in water pollution because, as filter feeders, pearl mussels are extremely vulnerable to this.”