WHITE-CLAWED CRAYFISH IN MUDDY HABITATS: MONITORING THE POPULATION IN THE RIVER IVEL, BEDFORDSHIRE, UK
White-clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes are usually associated with stony substrates, tree roots, or refuges in submerged banks. The River Ivel has the last known population of white-clawed crayfish in Bedfordshire. Prior to 2005, much of the bed comprised uniform silt, plus leaf-litter. Stands of reedmace Typha latifolia and other emergent vegetation were localised in less shaded areas. Initial survey results suggested a population at low abundance. A low-cost monitoring strategy was started in 2001 and continued three times a year to 2005, using engineering bricks, which offer artificial refuges. Crayfish are counted when bricks are lifted periodically. De-silting of c. 430 m river was carried out in February 2005, to improve habitat and to maintain the flood capacity in the channel upstream of a mill weir. Additional bricks were deployed a few weeks in advance of de-silting, then bricks and crayfish were lifted prior to dredging and were returned the next day. Starting upstream, soft, wet mud was dredged out, placed on the bank and searched manually for crayfish. Banks, tree roots and shallow margins were left undisturbed. In all, 4,142 crayfish were found in dredgings from a 430 m length of the mid channel. Crayfish were strongly associated with emergent vegetation, but many were present below the surface of the silt. Crayfish released in the dredged channel immediately burrowed into the silt retained on the channel margins. Monitoring after dredging showed no change in abundance in the main area with in-bank refuges and lots of bricks, but there was an increase in occupancy of bricks in an area where most crayfish had been in emergent vegetation.