People across Wester Ross are uniting to help protect the area’s important freshwater pearl mussels as part of a new Riverwatch scheme.
Freshwater pearl mussels are molluscs that live in the gravel beds of clean rivers and feed by filtering water and removing fine particles.
This activity helps keep our rivers clean and benefits other species such as salmon and trout.
They are, however, critically endangered, and Scotland is one of their last remaining strongholds.
The Riverwatch project is the latest initiative in Wester Ross to protect freshwater pearl mussels along the west coast and will launch in Gairloch at Wester Ross Fisheries Trust on Wednesday this week.
Riverwatch volunteers are being invited to attend the launch, which will feature a walk along a local river to discuss pearl mussel ecology, followed by training in identification and reporting of pearl mussel crime.
The new work comes in response to reports of recent illegal pearl fishing in the west Sutherland area.
Natalie Young, a riverwatcher from the Pearls in Peril Life project, said: “Wester Ross has some globally important populations of pearl mussels and it is essential that these mussels are protected from pearl fishing.
“This is especially important in response to the spate of pearl fishing incidents reported in the Lochinver area last year.
“Freshwater pearl mussel populations on the west coast are extremely vulnerable to pollution and illegal fishing.”
She added: “Freshwater pearl mussels have historically been fished for the pearls they may produce.
“However, they very rarely contain pearls and they are fully protected under law – it is a crime to kill, injure, take or disturb freshwater pearl mussels.”
Chief Inspector Colin Gough, area commander for south Highland, said: “Illegal pearl fishing has the potential to devastate the fragile populations we have here in the Highlands.
“Freshwater pearl mussels are protected by law and are a very important part of a river’s habitat therefore it is vital we encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity.
“Police Scotland will continue to work in close partnership with the Pearls in Peril Life project by supporting their river patrols, investigating any reports of this type of crime and undertaking enforcement action wherever possible.”
Potential Riverwatchers who would like to attend the launch should meet at the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust at 10am.