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River Culm Community Crayfish Project

River Culm crayfish need your help

The Blackdown Hills AONB will soon be starting a new project involving communities around the River Culm in learning about and looking after the white clawed crayfish.
The project aims to gather important information about the fragile populations of the native white clawed crayfish, the non-native signal crayfish, and the diverse wildlife of the River Culm.

The Culm Community Crayfish project has been made possible thanks to support from the East Devon Catchment Partnership and a grant of from the National Lottery through its Heritage Lottery Fund; along with contributions from the Environment Agency, Blackdown Hills AONB, local parish councils and Devon County Council.

Interested in getting involved as a volunteer? Call the AONB on 01823 680 681, email or drop in and meet the project team at Culmstock Village Hall on 6 December anytime between 4pm and 6pm, (and enjoy a free mince pie and hot drink while you’re at it!)

A project to save the native Crayfish of the River Culm  
The River Culm is one of the defining features of the Blackdown Hills, draining an area of over 100sq km, from its source at Culmhead through Hemyock, Culmstock and Uffculme, along the way gathering in the waters of the Sheldon Stream, Bolham Water and Madford Stream as well as many other minor streams. 
The Culm is home to a small surviving population  of the white-clawed crayfish, Britain’s only native crayfish. Our largest freshwater invertebrate was once widespread across the UK but has suffered a rapid decline in recent years, being lost from many rivers and streams. The species is now facing extinction in its remaining locations. In Devon, only two small populations survive: one on the River Culm; the other on the Creedy / Yeo. 

Volunteers have been monitoring the situation on the Culm for the last 10 years and it is clear that the white-claws are now in serious trouble,
with their numbers rapidly dwindling. This charismatic species could become extinct here within only a few years because of the multiple threats of falling water quality, habitat change and the arrival in Devon of an invasive alien crayfish species. 
Native crayfish distribution 1975  

Distribution in 2009 – red dots are signal crayfish  

The American signal crayfish carries a catastrophic fungal “plague” lethal to the native crayfish and, being a larger species, is also able to out-compete our white-claws. Signal crayfish are spreading gradually up and down the Culm, having escaped originally from a pond on the Whitehall Stream.     

What can be done?   

The Blackdown Hills AONB team are now developing a project to save the Culm’s native crayfish,backed by a wide consortium of organisations coordinated through the East Devon Catchment  Partnership. The project has four main aims: 

1. Raise awareness of the plight of white-clawed crayfish 
2. Reconnect communities with their local rivers and provide practical ways people can  help improve their health 
3. Improve the river habitat for white-clawed crayfish
4. Protect the white-claws from the invasive signal crayfish   

Community involvement and volunteer activity will be key to success because the Culm’s white-clawed crayfish will need safeguarding for many years into the future. This can only be achieved through concerted action by local people, so the project will focus on training people in how to survey for the white-clawed crayfish, and protect them from the signals. It will build a community  of support for the river and provide opportunities for people to get involved in lots of different ways. For example:  
    - Working with local schools to survey river health and water quality
    - Involving local youth and community groups in practical action to create better crayfish  habitat, eg by planting shade trees on riverbanks     
    - Training volunteers to survey the river corridor and identify areas for improvement
    - Monitoring the wildlife of the river
    - Reducing numbers of signal crayfish
    - Taking part in an annual Crayfish Festival
    - Experiencing the underwater life of the river via a webcam 
    - Attending talks and walks to learn more about the river and its wildlife  
The project plans to employ a Culm Crayfish Officer to lead the work, hosted by the AONB and based at their office in  
Hemyock. They will build on the network and experience that is being developed in  
the Blackdowns by the Natural Futures project, with the focus moving to the river and freshwater environment.    
Volunteers surveying for crayfish on the Culm  

Funding and next steps  
The partnership is now preparing an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s “Our Heritage”  
grant scheme. If successful, this will provide support for a one-year project that will enlist  
volunteers and community bodies to build the foundations for a long-lasting conservation effort  
for this flagship species and the rivers which support it.    

We want to involve local people and groups in shaping the project to help make sure it is  
successful, and during October 2016 we are contacting a wide range of people and organisations  
to ask for views and support, including local schools, parish councils, youth and community  
groups, landowners, fishing groups and businesses.  

Please contact the AONB office for more information and to discuss the project:  

Blackdown Hills AONB   
St Ivel House  
EX15 3SJ  
Tel: 01823 680681

Supported by the East Devon Catchment Partnership