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European Climate Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article26 October 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency

6 LIFE projects showing some mussel

Several LIFE projects have helped restore Europe’s threatened mussel populations.

LIFE15 NAT/SE/000892
LIFE15 NAT/SE/000892/Länsstyrelsen Norrbotten. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Fan mussel populations are in danger of extinction due to a severe parasite. And European freshwater pearl mussels have declined by 90% over the past century.

Here are six LIFE projects working to reverse this trend.

Saving Spain’s giant fan mussel

The fan mussel plays a crucial role in the Mediterranean ecosystem, providing a habitat for various other species. However, this mussel has fallen victim to a parasite which, since 2016, has wiped out 99.9% of the population, reducing its numbers from millions to thousands. The LIFE PINNARCA team is trying to maintain the surviving fan mussel population and exchange individuals between groups to avoid inbreeding so they do not die out through a lack of genetic diversity. They also hope to breed healthy individuals. Find out more in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Creating a viable mussel population in France

The Life Haute-Dronne team worked for seven years to preserve and strengthen the population of freshwater pearl mussels on the upper part of the Dronne river in France. 33 km of the river were renatured, and more than one million young mussels reintroduced. The demanding living conditions of this species are such that, through its protection, the entire river ecosystem benefits.

Watch a film about the team’s work.

Raising awareness of the mussel’s plight

Many LIFE projects raise awareness about their actions. A good example is Sweden’s GRIP on LIFE Integrated Project. The team made a film about their work to protect the freshwater pearl mussel. ‘Swedish Pearls’ took home a Silver Award from the WorldMediaFestivals Television & Corporate Media Awards 2022 in Hamburg in Documentaries – Environmental Protection. This is the third prize for the film, which was already awarded gold at the Deauville Green Awards 2022 and silver in the Publishing Prize 2021. This recognition is essential for the mussel’s survival.

A landmark Belgian project to restore mussel populations

In Belgium, the Pearl mussels team restored populations of the pearl mussel through the long-term conservation of their habitats. They implemented management initiatives to tackle problems in key target areas, solving around 20% of all issues. For example, they erected 76 km of fencing, built ten wooden bridges and installed 119 drinking troughs. These actions prevented damage to riverbanks and riverbeds and protected the mussels from being trampled on by livestock.

Restoring watercourses in Sweden

In the 19th century, many watercourses in Sweden were straightened and cleared of boulders and rocks for timber floating. The process, however, eradicated habitats of aquatic species like fish and mussels. Thanks to ReBorN LIFE, 243 km of watercourses have been restored, surpassing the original target of 202 km. The team has revived 109 hectares of water habitats and improved conditions for the project’s target species – the Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and European otter.

Reviving rivers in three countries

Finally, the ongoing LIFE Revives project aims to improve the conservation status of 56 target rivers, representing 7% of freshwater pearl mussel populations across Finland, Sweden and Estonia. Achieving this goal would double the number of mussel populations with favourable conservation status in these countries.

All these LIFE projects support the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

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