Group calls for 'alien' crayfish ban

WHEN demand for a more exotic species of crayfish swept over Britain in the 1970s, the American Red Signal Crayfish seemed like the answer to everyone's prayers.

WHEN demand for a more exotic species of crayfish swept over Britain in the 1970s, the American Red Signal Crayfish seemed like the answer to everyone's prayers.

The prawn-like crustaceans were shipped over in their droves, but very soon the trend died, and crayfish fisheries up and down the country were left abandoned.

But now, more than 30 years on, the species - known for its destructive behaviour - threatens to kill off its British counterpart within the next three decades.

Yesterday a conservationist group launched an attack on the crayfish, in an attempt to ban it from British waters once and for all.

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Abby Stancliffe-Vaughan, an officer for the Brecks Countryside Project, said the Red Signal Crayfish is no match for the White Claw Crayfish - a native species found in Suffolk's waters.

"The alien crayfish is very strong," she said. "It can travel across land, can climb absolutely anything, and carries a crayfish plague which is killing off the native species."

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It is hoped a new survey being carried out along the River Lark, will provide the answers to previously unsolved mysteries about the crayfish, and ultimately help to find ways to further eliminate it.

The Brecks Countryside Project - which is funded by local authorities - is furthering work already being carried out by the Lark Angling and Preservation Society, whose members have spent the past four years trapping the alien crayfish in water near Barton Mills.

Ms Stancliffe-Vaughan said: "The society has been carrying out vital work and we just want to extend on that.

"If something is not done about the Red Signal Crayfish then our native species will become extinct.

"By launching the survey, we hope to be able to control the numbers of crayfish, and will be looking at different methods of trapping, as well as carrying out spot checks.

"The reintroduction of alien species of crayfish is illegal, and we want to get the message across that any taken out of rivers must be killed. Even those kept in ponds can easily escape because they can walk across land, and a lot of people just do not realise how much destructive the species can be."

Rodger Pigerham, , liaison officer for the Lark Angling and Preservation Society, said the numbers of Red Signal Crayfish in the River Lark have reached staggering proportions.

"I do not actually think there are any White Claw Crayfish left in those waters," he said.

"It is an ongoing battle, which we are hoping to fight with the help of private landowners.

"The alien species will never be eliminated completely, but we have to try and get the numbers down as much as possible."

Vital statistics:

Native British crayfish

- breeds from the age of three-four years

- females produce up to 200 eggs

- young hatch from May to June

- adults smaller than signal crayfish

Signal crayfish

- breeds from the age of two (one in exceptional circumstances)

- females produce up to 500 eggs

- young hatch April to May

- more aggressive than native crayfish

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