Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, working for a better future for wildlife and wild places in Hampshire and the Island. Phone: 01489 774 400 E-mail: feedback@hwt.org.uk Website: www.hiwwt.org.uk

A new conservation centre has opened at Wildheart Animal Sanctuary, and is set to become a key part of a conservation programme to secure the future of an endangered species: the white-clawed crayfish. 

The centre, the first of its kind on the Isle of Wight, will play a significant role in the delivery of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts’ Southern Chalkstreams project. England has 85% of the world’s chalk streams, many of which are found in Hampshire, and the Southern Chalkstream Project aims to protect these unique chalk stream habitats, with a focus on the health of these environments and the white-clawed crayfish.

The crayfish raised in the centre will support the project’s objectives through the supplementation of existing populations or their release into safe havens or ark sites – it is suspected that the species has undergone a global decline of between 50-80% throughout its entire range. 

Ex-situ conservation of Britain’s only native crayfish species is very important. Captive breeding and the release of white-clawed crayfish is a recognised global conservation strategy to help halt the decline of this keystone species. It is hoped the released crayfish will help secure the long-term survival of the species in Hampshire, whilst enhancing wider biodiversity at these sites.

Above: Dr Ben Rushbrook Principal Ecologist Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

There is also the possibility of establishing the species on the Isle of Wight, ultimately helping increase the security of white-clawed crayfish in the region. However, this would involve careful assessment and consultation with a range of professionals and the public, to ensure that any future releases are in balance with (or enhance) the species and habitats these locations currently support. 

The centre also provides a unique experience, giving visitors the opportunity to meet and learn about this rarely seen native species. In the future, the centre may also house berried (egg-carrying) female crayfish.

The Trust has worked in partnership with Bristol Zoological Society for 10 years using their hatchery in Bristol. The Southern Chalkstream Project received funding from Watercress and Winterbournes, a Landscape Partnership Scheme committed to protecting, enhancing, and celebrating seven local chalk streams, with generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.