Sussex kelp: Summit held to celebrate kelp restoration project in the county's seas

The Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Kelp Summit saw over 100 people from international experts to local fishermen, come together to find out more about the restoration project.

Held at the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham-by-Sea its aim was to celebrate and share the journey of the first six months of the Sussex Kelp Restoration project.

The project is a collaboration of partner organisations who have come together to support the restoration of this degraded ecosystem for biodiversity, sustainable fisheries and a healthy and thriving climate resilient coastal community.

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Sally Ashby, Sussex Kelp Restoration Project lead said: “At a time of ecological and climate crisis, we have to restore nature at scale. The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project is a shining example of this.”

Kelp in the current © Big Wave Productions_Sussex Wildlife Trust

Kelp is described by the Sussex Wildlife Trust as: ‘the name given to a group of brown seaweeds, usually large in size, that are capable of forming dense aggregations known as ‘kelp forests’.’

These underwater forests are some of the most productive and biodiverse habitats on the planet, but more than 96 per cent of the kelp on the 40km stretch of Sussex coast has disappeared since 1987.

In the past a kelp forest stretched all along the Sussex coast from Selsey to Camber Sands, providing a biodiverse habitat for marine life.

Since the 1980s it has dramatically declined due to climate change, pollution and the dumping of sediment.

Kelp Forest Canopy © Andy Jackson_Sussex Wildlife Trust

In fact, one section from Beachy Head to Selsey Bill has been whittled down to just five per cent of its original range.

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Under the sea - discovering the work to protect Sussex’s kelp

Much of it has been destroyed by trawlers, but since the new Sussex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority’s Nearshore Trawling Byelaw came into force March 2021 it has meant work can be carried out to reinstate the kelp population.

The Nearshore Trawling Byelaw prohibits trawling year-round over large areas along the entire Sussex coast closest to the shore.

It was applauded by Sir David Attenborough, who said: ‘Sussex’s remarkable kelp forests will now have a chance to regenerate to provide a home for hundreds of species, creating an oasis of life off the coast, enhancing fisheries and sequestering carbon in our fight against climate change.’

The protection is of over 300 kilometres of seabed.

At the summit a number of lectures guided attendees and remote viewers through a journey to understand more about the underwater forests and why they are so important for wildlife, food security and to help combat climate change.

Tim Dapling, Sussex IFCA Chief Officer explained “The protection and recovery of essential marine habitats such as kelp is vital for future sustainable inshore fisheries.

“Kelp habitats provide a key role in the life cycles of both commercial fish and shellfish species living in Sussex waters.

“The collaborative programme to monitor recovery provides critical evidence”.

The summit brought together international marine experts, local fishermen, youth ambassadors and more to highlight the important work achieved over the past six months. This has included, mapping the remaining kelp, seabed carbon sampling, and benchmarking and monitoring the current wildlife, including commercial species such as Lobster, Bass and Black Sea Bream.

Dr Ian Hendy, marine scientist from the University of Portsmouth, said: “The Sussex Kelp has galvanised academics from across specialisms to contribute to this exciting journey.

“At the summit we heard of some of the astounding work that has already been taking place, and from national and international experts, setting our Sussex work in its global context.”

The Kelp Summit was held thanks to funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The event is a first for the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project – a coalition of local and national organisations including NGOs and academia.

Henri Brocklebank, director of conservation at Sussex Wildlife Trust said: ‘The passion to see a healthy restoration of marine ecosystems in Sussex is held by so many sea users and organisations now – the story of the Sussex Kelp has inspired hope that we can see the revival of the depleted wildlife in our seas.

“The wildlife we see on Blue Planet documentaries – it’s here in Sussex, and we are doing all we can to understand it, protect it and share the journey of its recovery.”

As part of the project wildlife charity The People’s Trust for Endangered Species worked with Sussex Wildlife Trust and IFCA (Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities) to save the kelp forests.

Its 100 interns worked in the field, in research, in policy, all of them contributing to better future for the UK’s flora and fauna.

Their work will inform future rewilding plans, helping to fight back against climate change, trawling and pollution, which is severely damaging this important habitat.

The summit also featured the premiere of a short film by Big Wave TV highlighting the work of the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project scientists.

For more information, visit sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk