Conservation status


The EU Habitats Directive (1992) sets out a framework for the creation of designated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the protection of species listed on Annex II (and also habitats listed on Annex I which are of conservation importance at a European scale). There are three species of lamprey in Britain and Ireland: river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis); brook lamprey(Lampetra planeri), and sea lamprey, (Petromyzon marinus). It is of significant importance that all three species of Lamprey in Ireland are listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive (1992); in addition to River Lamprey being listed on Annex V of the same Directive. Included in the designation of SAC sites there is the requirement for monitoring and protection of Lamprey species coupled with the conservation and maintenance of their preferred habitat. The three lamprey species are also listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention (1979).

Article 17 reporting

Article 17 requires Member States to report every six years about the progress made with the implementation of the Habitats Directive. The NPWS report ‘The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland. Species Assessments‘ report by NPWS (2013)  evaluated the conservation status of all three Lamprey species with regard to the requirements of the EC Habitats Directive (1992). Sea lamprey were evaluated as being at ‘Unfavourable Status’, while both River and Brook lamprey were evaluated as being at ‘Favourable Status’. From the most recent Red Data List prepared for fish species in Ireland (King et al., 2011) the Sea lamprey is evaluated as at ‘Near Threatened’ status; while both the River and Brook lamprey are evaluated at ‘Least Concern’.

Adult River Lamprey  Lampetra fluviatilis
Adult River Lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis

The case for the river lamprey

Taking account of the conservation status reporting for these species and the relatively poor understanding of the lifecycle requirements and balances in place with regard to habitat ecology, there is an imperative to employ the ‘Precautionary Principle’ for any and all works potentially affecting Lamprey species, within and without designated conservation sites. We therefore disagree with the assessment that the River lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis is at ‘Favourable’ conservation status in Ireland. River lampreys are poor swimmers and are less able to pass barriers than sea lampreys. River lampreys are therefore confined to below barriers in the lower reaches of many of the SAC rivers where they occur. Indeed we think that River lampreys are the most vulnerable of the three lamprey species in Ireland and they should not have been assessed as being at ‘Favourable’ status. Applying the precautionary principle they should be give a lower conservation status rating in our opinion.  Mateus et al (2013) provided the evidence of significant genetic differences between the two species. River lampreys are are a separate species from brook lampreys, with different requirements, and should be managed as such. Pereira & Almada (2013) have suggested that river lampreys may be accidentally philopatric due to their small size keeping them in estuaries and then more likely to return to their natal streams. This has significant consequences for management.


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