The pioneering campaign to restore a vast underwater kelp forest off the Sussex coast achieved its first major milestone, as the introduction of a critical new byelaw has been agreed.
The new byelaw, which will see trawling excluded from a vast 304 km2 of Sussex coastline year-round, was agreed by the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Sussex IFCA) on 23 January. The decision was made following an extensive consultation period, which saw overwhelming support demonstrated by almost 2,500 people in response to the Help Our Kelp campaign.
Sussex IFCA’s decision brings the first-ever UK kelp rewilding initiative one step closer, and aims to give the kelp the breathing space it needs to recover. Over time, repeated passes by trawling vessels have torn kelp from the sea floor and prevented natural regeneration, so the alleviation of this major pressure is the critical first step towards recovery.
Sir David Attenborough lent his support to the campaign in October 2019 when he voiced the Help Our Kelp campaign film, showcasing the wealth of wildlife to be found in this diverse habitat.
The new byelaw must now be passed to the Secretary of State at Defra for approval before it can be implemented, so the Help Our Kelp Partnership now wish to see it signed off quickly before another year of trawling damages the seabed in this vulnerable in-shore zone.
Charles Clover, Executive Director of BLUE, said: “This is an initiative that tackles climate change and overfishing impacts all at once, the first of its kind in the UK. This is exactly what we need to be doing in marine habitats all over the world.”
Kelp once stretched along 40 km of the West Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham, forming an underwater forest that extended at least 4 km seaward. It provided a vital habitat, nursery and feeding ground for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass. It locked up huge quantities of carbon, helping us to fight climate change, while improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves.
But within living memory, kelp in Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. Storm damage, changing fishing practices and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging boats have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat. The wildlife associated with it has all but disappeared, and the vital ecosystem services it provided have been lost – but there is now a chance to bring it all back.
Henri Brocklebank, Director of Conservation at the Sussex Wildlife Trust and Chair of the Help Our Kelp Partnership said: “The IFCA put together an excellent body of evidence and Sussex Wildlife Trust is delighted with the result and hopes it can soon be signed by the Secretary of State so that our Sussex Marine habitats can start regenerating.”
To support the Help Our Kelp campaign and watch the film narrated by Sir David Attenborough, visit sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/helpourkelp
#HelpOurKelp has been formed in partnership with the following organisations: Sussex Wildlife Trust, Big Wave Productions, Blue Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society