The River Ehen: A European Special Area of Conservation

The next time you come to the River Ehen to take advantage of its spectacular Atlantic salmon run you may notice a few changes. Along the 27 km river, several projects have been started in an effort to restore habitat and save an endangered species.

But, it is not only the salmon who need saving. Rather, the efforts are aimed at reviving the population of freshwater mussels found here and in other rivers in West Cumbria.

The River Ehen is home to the largest population of pearl producing freshwater mussels in England. Unfortunately, this population is thought to be dying out. Experts predict that by the year 2030, no mussels will remain.

The Mussels Have Stopped Reproducing

Freshwater mussels are long-lived, with an average lifespan of almost 150 years. There are many mature mussels living in the river. The alarm was sounded when it was discovered that no new mussels are being produced to replenish the population with future generations. The beds are now barren and isolated.

The Pearls in Peril project hopes to complete two initiatives. Both are designed to rejuvenate the freshwater mussel population.

River Bank Management and Protection

To stabilize the banks and reduce the amount of silt introduced into the river, large-scale riparian tree plantings have begun. Fencing and other stabilizers have also been introduced to keep soil out of the water and allow the mussels to thrive.

Riparian and In-Stream Restoration

Manmade ditches leading to the river will be managed to prevent the flow of agricultural additives from reaching the river and contaminating the water. In addition, small ponds and wetlands will be created to serve as a filtration system for better water quality.

As the project unfolds the River Ehen will undergo changes. Many directly impact freshwater mussels but others will aid the salmonid population as well. Once completed, the Pearls in Peril project will ensure the survival of freshwater mussels in West Cumbria. And, it will help preserve Atlantic salmon habitat as well.