Rescue operation to save crayfish from deadly plague in Leeds river

The Environment Agency has carried out a rescue operation to save a population of endangered crustaceans from a deadly plague.

Experts feared that the native white-clawed crayfish in Meanwood Beck in Leeds could have been completely wiped out if action was not taken.

After the disease was detected in the waterway, biodiversity experts took measures to remove the crayfish from the waterway and into quarantine.

Tom Padgett, of the Environment Agency, said they started to notice dead crayfish as part of monitoring operations, adding that the species were a "vital part of the eco-system".

He said: "They are part of the food chain and they are important in their own right and they provide foodstuff for other iconic species such as otter locally."

Experts had to divert the water before the crayfish could be picked out of the riverbed. Credit: ITV News

Water was diverted in a section upstream from the infected area. The stream was then drained before specialists could carry out the rescue on the riverbed.

The crayfish were checked and sorted before being sent to several safe locations, including Leeds University and York Gate Gardens, where they will undergo health checks.

The plague is only a risk to other crayfish but to avoid contamination to other waterways anyone using the water should always clean and fully dry dogs or equipment.

Biodiversity specialist, Tim Selway, who led the operation, said: "With so few populations of native crayfish remaining, we must act to preserve what we can.

“This operation has taken a lot of planning as we had to ensure the right conditions, that we had the correct licences to handle and move the crayfish from Natural England, and to make sure there was no impact on other wildlife in the river before going ahead.

Mr Selway added: "This situation shows just how easy it is to spread a fatal disease which can wipe out an endangered population and everyone can play their part to prevent this from happening."

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