Enclosure status
IUCN status
Critically endangered
Scientific name
Acipenser sturio & Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus
UK & Europe
Marine and freshwater

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. 

Report a sturgeon sighting

Reintroducing sturgeon 

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:  

  1. Essential habitat restoration and protection,  

  1. Population recovery,  

  1. Bycatch reduction, 

  1. Stakeholder engagement, and 

  1. Closing evidence gaps. 

UK sturgeon conservation strategy and action plan

We're working collaboratively to recover native sturgeons in the UK, find out how we're making a big difference for this giant fish. 

Restoring marine and freshwater ecosystems

Basking shark in UK waters

Marine and freshwater

They cover 71% of the surface of our planet, and yet they are still the least explored.

Sturgeon habitat 

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. 

European sea sturgeon (Acipenser sturio)
UK native sturgeon, the Atlantic sturgeon being released into the wild

Sturgeon facts

  • 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. 

Recovering native wildlife

  • Hazel dormouse close-up, dark circular eyes with rosy orange fur
    Reintroducing the hazel dormouse to British countryside

    Hazel dormouse

    By working together with our conservation partners, we've managed to successfully reintroduce over 1,000 dormice

  • a group of seals seen during our aerial surveys in the Greater Thames estuary.
    Protecting harbour and grey seal populations in the Thames

    Thames Marine Mammal Conservation

    ZSL has been monitoring marine mammals in the Tidal Thames since the early 2000s, to better understand and conserve species such as grey seals, harbour seals and porpoises.

  • Sperm whale in the Wash
    Understanding strandings

    Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP)

    The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) coordinates the investigation of all cetaceans, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the English and Welsh coastline

  • european eel closeup of face
    The species are now classified as ‘Critically Endangered’

    European eel conservation

    European eels once thrived in London’s rivers but the number of young joining the adult populations has dropped dramatically since the 1980s.

  • marine habitat
    Putting the health of our marine ecosystem first

    Marine Habitat Restoration

    Marine habitats are essential to the health of our marine ecosystem, and hold environmental and social importance, providing valuable ecosystem services.

  • Seals on a bank on Thames Estuary
    22 March 2023

    What to do if you find a dead seal

    We're the public to report strandings of dead seals across English and Welsh coastlines and waterways to help ZSL scientists further understand the threats facing marine mammals on our native shores. 

  • Conservation in UK and Europe