Sturgeon in the UK
The UK is home to 2 native species of sturgeon, the Atlantic (Acipenser oxyrinchus) and European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio). These species can reach up to 5m long and can live for over 60 years! Both species are diadromous, meaning that they spend most of their lives foraging in coastal and marine areas, and migrate into freshwater to spawn.
They were once found in UK coastal, estuarine and freshwater, but a combination of pressures has made them two of the UK’s rarest species. Sturgeons are actually the most Critically Endangered group of animals on the IUCN Red list.
We're working together to restore sturgeon as part of the UK sturgeon Alliance, a group of UK wildlife conservation charities championing sturgeon conservation. Bringing our expertise on species reintroduction to the alliance, to help restore the species.
Why were UK sturgeon lost?
Pan-European sturgeon populations declined in the 1800s due to a number of threats, including over-exploitation for meat and caviar, and barriers to freshwater spawning grounds.
Sturgeon were persecuted by salmon farmers who believed they would eat their salmon, this included shooting and even pitchforking sturgeon as they swam upstream. Like other migratory fish species, they're restricted by any barriers in our rivers, which reduces the spawning habitat they have available. Sturgeons also don't reach maturity until 10-18 years old, which makes them particularly vulnerable to population loss.
Juvenile Atlantic sturgeon
Ancient fish species
Historic sturgeon poaching
Reintroductions of both species in Europe has given rapidly declining populations a chance to recover across Europe. While all indications are that these reintroductions have been successful, the sturgeon’s late maturity means that it will be a few more years before we can know with certainty. It is likely that the sturgeons we are starting to see in UK coastal waters have come from these reintroductions.
Restoring UK sturgeon
The UK Sturgeon Alliance has developed a UK Sturgeon Conservation Strategy and Action Plan, which sets out 5 goals for sturgeon recovery:
Essential habitat restoration and protection,
Stakeholder engagement, and
Closing evidence gaps.
We're working collaboratively to recover native sturgeons in the UK, find out how we're making a big difference for this giant fish.
Sturgeon rely on a range of habitats, including muddy seabed, freshwater gravels, and estuarine muds. Their migratory lifecycle means that access to these essential habitats is critical to their survival. Many historical sturgeon rivers now have barriers that limit their access to essential freshwater spawning habitats. One of the goals of the UK Sturgeon Alliance is to improve sturgeon ability to migrate into our fresh waters.
What do sturgeon eat?
Sturgeon are benthic feeders, which means they scavenge along the sea or riverbed. They use their barbels to find food which includes worms, crabs, mussels and small fish.
- Sturgeon are the most Critically Endangered group of species on the planet. Globally, 85% of sturgeon are at risk of extinction making them the most threatened group of animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- All 26 species of sturgeon are on the IUCN Red List with almost two-thirds of sturgeon Critically Endangered.