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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Our little crayfish haven

Notes from the Sticks: Our little crayfish haven

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SOME months ago my husband Alan was walking our labrador pup beside the brook which runs behind our house and then through the centre of our village when he got into conversation with another dog-owner. She told him that some work had been planned on the stream a while back but it had to be abandoned when a colony of ‘white shrimps’ was found. Apparently these are rare and protected. We had never heard of such a thing, but got no further until this week when Alan encountered an employee of the Ribble Rivers Trust and asked about the white shrimps. She suggested that his informant might have meant white clawed crayfish, so we looked it up and lo and behold! An article all about them in our village.

The white clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), a crustacean which is a bit like a tiny lobster about 4ins long, is the only crayfish native to the British Isles. It is found across Europe (the one in the picture was in Italy but I can’t see any difference), and Britain is its northernmost limit.

It was once found across most of the country, mainly in chalk streams (I remember finding some in the Darent at Eynsford in Kent in the 1950s) but its distribution is rapidly shrinking and it is under severe threat. There are two main reasons. First it is very sensitive to pollution and it is killed by run-off of chemicals into the water. Second is the North American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) which is yet another alien species misguidedly and catastrophically introduced. It was brought to Europe in the 1960s to supplement the harvest of European crayfish (Astacus astacus) which were being damaged by a disease called crayfish plague, but the imports turned out to be a carrier of that disease. Needless to say they soon made their way to Britain, and the native white clawed crayfish have no resistance to the disease. I would have thought by the 60s the authorities would have learned that you cannot introduce species without disastrous results, but seemingly not.

Here is a video which tells you all about these delightful creatures, which are now protected by law.

The Ribble Rivers Trust article suggests that the planned work on the stream was carried out later, but I don’t think it was. I will keep my eyes open for the crayfish but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for them as I am sure people are careless about what they allow to get into the stream, as I wrote here. 

Writing this article did remind me of a comment after I wrote about great crested newts, which are also protected. A reader suggested starting a trade in them for supply to opponents of building developments. It’s a thought . . .

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Sheep of the Week

LAST week I wrote about the Bleu du Maine, the ancestors of which include the Leicester Longwool

The Leicester Longwool is a hugely important breed in the history of livestock development. Also known as the Leicester, Bakewell Leicester, Dishley Leicester, English Leicester, Improved Leicester and New Leicester, it was developed by 18th-century breeding innovator Robert Bakewell. Its meaty carcase and heavy fleece was used to improve many sheep breeds, but as a pedigree animal it has its faults and now it is one of the rarest breeds in Britain with fewer than 500 registered breeding ewes.

These sheep have lovely mobile ears, as you can see in this video (it goes on a bit but you don’t need to watch it all). They are big and tall, so they can be hard to handle. There are occasional black individuals.

Here’s another video.

You can read more about them at the Leicester Longwool Sheep Breeders Association website. 

The breed has a following in the US, and this is the website of the breeders there. 

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Wheels of the Week

My first job was as a trainee reporter on a local paper, the Evening Post, which was centred on Luton and produced in a former hot water bottle factory on an industrial estate down the M1 in Hemel Hempstead. There was another office in Hitchin, covering the North Herts area including Stevenage and Letchworth. As well as working all day we did evening jobs covering council meetings several nights a week. I used to go to bed so tired that I was already looking forward to hitting the sack the next night. Although I say it myself, it was a really good paper and I would like to think that not too much corruption went on under our scrutiny. And it was a hell of a lot of fun. Of course it closed decades ago, but not before sending a great number of excellent reporters and subs to Fleet Street (in the days when working there was a source of pride).

Anyway, with such a big territory it was essential to have wheels, and the firm maintained a fleet of Vauxhall Vivas. I assume they chose Vauxhall because it had a big factory in Luton. Those cars must have been robust because they were severely abused. One photographer managed to get into reverse while doing 90 on the M1. A fellow reporter got into a Viva in a Luton car park and drove it 20 miles before the ignition burned out – it was not one of our cars (the owner was livid). Since none of us owned the cars I fear we did not treat them with respect, and if we were allowed to use them on Sundays (when the paper was not published), they certainly did not stay in the drive, especially as the firm paid for the petrol. I think someone got to Scotland and back one day.

This car was made in 1969, not in Luton but in Ellesmere Port. This notice on the windscreen gives all the details (you should be able to increase the size of the image). 

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FINALLY, a reminder that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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