THE public are being called on to help in the fight to stop a deadly disease from wiping out a rare breed of fish seeking refuge in an East Staffordshire river.
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has sent out the alarm call after Crayfish plague – a fatal fungal disease – was discovered in the River Swarbourn, near Yoxall.
The river is one of the few surviving refuges of the threatened White-clawed Crayfish, Britain’s only native crayfish.
The plague can wipe out whole populations in a short period and the nature conservation charity is appealing to nearby residents and visitors to the River Swarbourn to help prevent the disease from spreading.
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s senior wetlands ecologist, Nick Mott, said, “This is devastating news for our native crayfish. The disease is carried by invasive American signal crayfish and then transferred to our native crayfish via a number of ‘wet pathways’ including direct contact, footwear, animal coats, fishing kit, nets or other equipment.
“As well as being Britain’s only native crayfish, the White-clawed crayfish is an important part of the diets of other wildlife such as otters, birds and fish, so their loss could have severe impacts on the entire wetland ecosystem.
“The public can really make a difference by following our advice to help stop the disease from spreading, and the future of this species could depend on those efforts.”
To help prevent the further spread of the disease, members of the public are being asked to avoid entering the River Swarbourn for the next few months or until there is confirmation that the disease has died out.
The Trust and the Environment Agency have also been liaising with fishing clubs in the area to alert them to the outbreak.
People can also help to stop it returning by removing all mud and plant matter from anything that has come into contact with water, then washing in clean water at home and drying thoroughly or disinfecting it before using footwear or equipment again in another pond or stream.
Dog owners and horse riders should also keep their animals out of the water at this sensitive time.