Rare freshwater pearl mussels to be released at secret Welsh site
Hundreds of young freshwater pearl mussels – one of the UK’s rarest aquatic creatures – are to be released into a river at a secret spot in north Wales this summer as part of a project to save the molluscs from extinction.
The juvenile mussels have been bred at a hatchery in the Brecon Beacons, in the south of the country, and will be carefully moved to the river in Gwynedd after it was restored to create the sort of conditions they are able to thrive in.
Pearl mussels can live for more than a century, meaning that some of the adults in the hatchery tanks may have been alive when Queen Victoria was on the throne, but young mussels have not successfully reached maturity in the wild in Wales for decades.
Loss of habitat, pollution, the climate emergency and human exploitation – they have been harvested for the pearls they sometimes produce since Roman times – have caused populations to crash.
The site is being kept secret in case anyone is tempted to break the laws in place to protect them and search for pearls. Even if they did find the spot, they would almost certainly be disappointed as vanishingly few mussels actually produce pearls.