The PIP Riverwatcher launched Riverwatch schemes covering the 16 Special Areas of Conservation listed below:

River Moriston, River Oykel, River Evelix, River Naver, River Borgie, Foinaven, Abhainn Clais an Eas and Allt a’Mhulinn, Ardvar and Loch a’Mhuilinn Woodlands, Inverpolly, River Moidart, River Kerry, Glen Beasdale, Ardnamurchan Burns, Rannoch Moor, River South Esk and North Harris.

What is Riverwatch?

Riverwatch schemes were implemented at targeted river catchments across Scotland to combat wildlife crime affecting freshwater pearl mussels.  The schemes were aimed at land and river managers, local communities and river recreational users.  It provided information on how to identify illegal pearl fishing activity and how to report it.

A riverwatcher, employed by RAFTS (Rivers and Fisheries Trusts Scotland) and hosted by the Ness and Beauly Fisheries Trust (N&BFT), undertook numerous site visits throughout Scotland in order to gather wildlife crime evidence and raise awareness about the conservation issues affecting the freshwater pearl mussel.

Why was Riverwatch needed?

Illegal pearl fishing usually occurs when rivers are low in the spring and summer generally in remote locations or areas hidden from view. Fishing is often carried out by wading into the river, using a glass-bottomed bucket to find the mussels and a cleft stick to retrieve them. Mussels are killed and often discarded in piles on the river bank. Pearls are rarely found and many mussels are killed during the process, this has serious implications to the population and has led to the extinction of freshwater pearl mussels in many rivers.  Over the last 100 years more than one third of the rivers that used to contain freshwater pearl mussels no longer do so.

Over-exploitation by 'pearl-fishers' is primarily responsible for massive declines in their numbers and range. But as filter feeders, freshwater pearl mussels are also extremely vulnerable to water pollution and engineering work in rivers.

Can you help?

It is essential to report suspicious activities such as:

  • any suspected pearl fishing or suspicious activities in or around rivers;
  • piles of shells on a river bank or scattered on the riverbed; and,
  • excessive silt or other pollution in a water course.

The Riverwatcher collects information about pearl fishing activity both current and historic and would appreciate any knowledge that you may have.  This helps us to monitor remaining populations and target conservation work effectively.

It is crucial that anyone seeing or suspecting illegal activity in any circumstance should report it to Police Scotland or local Wildlife Crime Officer or Pearls in Peril Riverwatcher.  Any information we receive is handled sensitively.


tel: 01463 783505 or mob 07789 793199 [email protected]

If you suspect a crime has taken place call Police Scotland on 101 (or 999 if a crime is in progress).

Also available is our PAWS Crime App in iTunes

Wildlife crime app

Riverwatch Materials and Links