A MAJOR £70,000 project aims to provide a lifeline for North York Moor's under-threat freshwater pearl mussels.

They are virtually extinct in many parts of the country and the last remaining mussels on the North York Moors can be found in the River Esk, above Glaisdale.

High levels of sediment in the Esk are making it difficult for the mussels to breed.

So the North York Moors National Park Authority has brought in the Environment Agency, Natural England and Durham University to help.

The team will use the funding to help farmers and landowners work to protect the mussels by fencing off the river from their land.

At present erosion and farm animals have led to a high level of sediment upstream of Glaisdale.

Fraser Hugill, the park's senior farm conservation officer, said: "It is important that we act now as the pearl mussels in the River Esk are an ageing population and unless we can improve conditions they will become extinct.

"Fencing off the riverbanks not only helps the environment but will also be beneficial to farmers by helping them with stock control.

"The funding is time limited so I ask that any farmers who border the Esk upstream of Glaisdale contact me as soon as possible so we can discuss what is required."

The funding to support for the work was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yorventure.

Fiona Spiers, regional manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "This project will improve the habitat of this threatened species, ensuring its survival for many years to come."

In September the Environment Agency took some River Esk mussels for a captive breeding scheme.

The mussels were taken to Windermere in the Lake District and it is hoped to re-introduce them to the River Esk at some point.