Freshwater pearl mussel appeal

Freshwater pearl mussel held in the handFreshwater pearl mussel

Help give a lifeline to one of Devon's most endangered species

Freshwater pearl mussels have been wild residents of Devon’s rivers for thousands of years, but they are now considered ‘critically endangered’.

Once widespread, now the only populations in the whole of southern England are in just two north Devon rivers - and they desperately need our help.

Freshwater pearl mussels can live to 130 years of age! But they have a complex life cycle and they need good water quality to breed successfully.


Devon's freshwater pearl mussels have not bred successfully for more than 50 years!

Devon Wildlife Trust is working to save the freshwater pearl mussel before it is lost. As well as working to reduce pollution in our waterways, we are involved in a national captive breeding programme, one which has recently seen the first signs of breeding success for Torridge mussels in decades!

But we need £9,000 to continue the work over the coming months. Can you help this vital project with a donation today


Buried treasures

They might not be as photogenic as some endangered animals, but freshwater pearl mussels are brilliant for our rivers and streams: their diet of algae and bacteria means that, in large numbers, they help to clean our waterways. And clean rivers are great news for fish and for beloved Devon wildlife like kingfishers and otters.River Torridge by Kevin New

Freshwater pearl mussels provide this ‘clean-up service’ for free. Sadly, their reward in recent decades has been increasing silt, nitrates and phosphates washing off the land and polluting waterways. In these conditions mussels are too stressed to breed.

Now lost from the Dart, Exe, Tamar and Teign, the mussels are still surviving on the Torridge and Taw, but mussels on the River Torridge have not bred successfully in more than 50 years. And a population unable to breed will slowly become extinct.

Breeding success!

We’ve been working with farmers and forestry managers to reduce runoff and improve river quality. Crucially, we are also involved in the Freshwater Biological Association’s captive breeding programme to give juvenile mussels a chance to develop in unpolluted water before they are released back into carefully selected parts of the River Torridge.

The mussels spend their larval stage living on the gills of salmon or brown trout. And the good news is that trout involved in the captive breeding programme were recently found to have dozens of mussel larvae on their gills. Over time, the larvae will drop from the fish, back to the gravel bed, and grow to become juvenile mussels.

These would be the first young mussels on the river since the 1960s.


But the next stage of the project is crucial. We need to move the juvenile mussels on their gravel habitat from the tanks, return them to specially selected points of the Torridge riverbed - and then monitor these sites to check on the progress of the first young mussels on the river since the 1960s.

Although this project is largely funded by Biffa Award, DWT has to find a further £9,000 to cover the costs of this critical work on the Freshwater Pearl Mussel project over the coming months. 

Please give to help us save one of Devon’s most endangered creatures and improve the River Torridge for a wide array of wildlife. Thank you.



Freshwater pearl mussels installed in the tank









Devon Wildlife Trust's freshwater pearl mussel conservation work is part of the nationwide Restoring Freshwater Mussels in England project.