Sussex Kelp Forest Leads the Way by Keir Hartley (first published in West Sussex County Times)

Kelp forest

The new kelp forest off the Sussex coast is becoming real. That’s the message from Councillors and wildlife and fisheries experts. And it puts Sussex in the forefront of efforts to combat global warming, habitat destruction and the return to a cleaner, more sustainable world.

The marine forest which stretched between Chichester and Rye was destroyed by storms and trawling in the 1980s but is now being restored.

“Given the extent of kelp loss it may take many years for kelp to recover to the density and distribution once known”, says Tim Dapling, Chief Officer for Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.  “Early information appears to show changes in the environment already taking place since trawling management was introduced in March 2021. It will be very interesting to see changes in 4-5 years time.”

Carbon capture could be phenomenal, because kelp grows up to 30 times faster than land forests. Kelp also provides a safe environment for many other marine species. The aim is “to establish a healthy rich and diverse inshore environment, to ensure long term sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries”, explains Tim, who is working enthusiastically with a group of organisations including Sussex Wildlife Trust.

“We must give nature time and space.  Patience is required.  Nature does things far better than we do“, explains Sally Ashby, the Trust’s lead on the  project.  A key aim is scientific monitoring of the growing habitats. There will be underwater drones, extensive surveys and even samples of DNA to see which species are returning, and when.

Apart from the boost for fisheries, people will benefit in many ways. Sally speaks for all the partners when she explains: The work of Sussex Wildlife Trust is entirely focussed on the local community so that everyone has ownership, everyone has a stake.  There will be benefits for local businesses too, because if we have thriving, sustainable fisheries, if we have excellent water quality, if we have incredible nature for people to witness, then that has to be good for tourism as a whole.”

The community is what concerns Councillor Ed Crouch of Adur and Worthing Council, a major player in the project. One problem mentioned has been the impact of extra seaweed washed up after storms. “Coastal local authorities are in the process of developing solutions to remove excess wash-up of seaweed.  We aim to ensure that the kelp is used for good purposes such as soil improvement, fertiliser, animal feed, and so on.”

This points to a new way of sustainable and productive agriculture as well as fisheries.  It’s a low key, natural way of removing carbon which can only be a good thing.  Maybe Sussex can become a beacon for sustainable land/sea projects around the UK- and with COP 26 coming up -who knows- maybe the world?

Learn more about Help the Kelp here.