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Protected Species:


Legal Protection

The freshwater pearl mussel is one of UK’s most threatened species, Scotland holds almost half the global population for the species. It is a fully protected invertebrate species under Schedule 5 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Freshwater pearl mussel is a wildlife crime priority, as illegal pearl fishing is decimating populations.It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly:

  • kill, injure or take a wild animal

  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place which such an animal uses for shelter or protection

  • disturb such an animal when it is occupying a structure or place for shelter or protection

It is also an offence to:

  • possess or control a living or dead Schedule 5 invertebrate

  • sell, offer for sale, or possess or transport for the purpose of sale any living or dead Schedule 5 invertebrate (or any such derivatives)


It is illegal to:

  • possess freshwater pearl mussels or pearls collected since 1998 – when the law was changed to give the species further protection

  • sell, or advertise for sale, Scottish freshwater pearl mussels or their pearls unless done so under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage


Knowingly causing or permitting any of the above acts to be carried out is also an offence.

Survey Timings

Surveys for freshwater pearl mussels can be carried out at any time of year, however the optimal timings is between March and September.

Licensable Issues

You should apply to SNH for a licence if you wish to survey for freshwater pearl mussels by:

  • carefully walking stretches of river with a clear-bottomed bucket to look for animals on the river bed

  • gently lifting individuals from the river bed and measuring them to work out their rough age, to get a better idea of a population’s size and health

  • Licences are only issued to experienced and suitably trained individuals.

License activities for social, economic or environmental reasons (including development) that might affect freshwater pearl mussels may also be issued, as long as:

  • the licensed activity will contribute to significant social, economic or environmental benefit

  • there is no satisfactory alternative

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