Kelp is the name given to a group of brown seaweeds, usually large in size, that are capable of forming dense aggregations known as 'kelp forests'.
Historically, kelp was abundant along the West Sussex coastline. But this important habitat has diminished over time, leaving just a few small patches and individual plants, mostly in shallow water and along the shoreline. Through the Help Our Kelp partnership, we want to bring it back!
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Sussex IFCA’s proposed nearshore trawling byelaw brings the first ever marine 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 vital first step towards recovery.
The local and democratic agreement of the byelaw is the first major milestone. The next critical step in the process is for the Secretary of State for DEFRA, George Eustice, to sign the byelaw so that it can be implemented. Until this happens, trawling along the Sussex coast will continue.
The need for the new byelaw is compelling:
- Research shows that there will be a maximum of nine fishing vessels affected for part of the year by the closure, which will ban trawling within 4km of the shore, with an estimated loss in trawling income of £93,400. This will be offset by an equivalent financial gain to inshore potters and netters, who have fewer economic options than the trawlers who can adapt by fishing elsewhere.
- It is estimated that the enhanced value of the ecosystem services from the protected kelp forests in Sussex will be more than £3 million per year.
- One of the many benefits from the ecosystem services will be a significant 90% increase of important wildlife for the fisheries, which will spill over away from the closed zones.
- It is estimated that there will be wider economic benefits in Sussex coastal erosion mitigation and enhanced local tourism and recreation because of the regeneration.
- Evidence from another trawler exclusion zone in Lyme Bay in Dorset show a four-fold increase in the success of potting industries as the trawling moves further off shore.
Sussex Wildlife Trust is delighted to be working alongside Big Wave TV, BLUE Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society and University of Portsmouth as the Help Our Kelp Partnership. Together we have contacted Secretary of State George Eustice directly, urging him to sign the byelaw swiftly, and encouraged all our Sussex coastal MPs to do the same. We have done this understanding the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis and the important roles that DEFRA and our local MPs are playing.
As lockdown restrictions start to ease, we wish to put this critical byelaw back on the political agenda. We see it as a win-win scenario for Sussex, both for its people and its wildlife. Getting the byelaw signed is a positive and unprecedented action for a more sustainable Sussex.
1. Championing the byelaw
The first step towards restoration is to put fisheries management in place. Whilst there are a number of factors that may be affecting the kelp, one manageable factor is fishing effort.
The Sussex IFCA, who manage fishing within six nautical miles from the Sussex shore, agreed a new byelaw on 23 January 2020 which will see trawling excluded from a vast 304 km2 area of Sussex coastline year-round (see map below). 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.
The HOK partnership is championing this byelaw and working to keep up the pressure on Defra to see it signed off as and therefore implemented as quickly as possible.
2. Bringing together key players
As part of our preparations for when the byelaw is in place, the HOK partnership has been bringing together key organisations which will help get the restoration project off the ground and support it longer term. This includes a number of research institutes, bringing expertise in kelp ecology, oceanography and social sciences, and strategic stakeholders who will provide vital assistance in the more practical elements of the work.
3. Preparing workstreams
Once the byelaw is in place, there will be work to do. We are using this time to line everything up so we can get started as soon as possible; this includes consolidation of historical and current data, identifying key areas of research and data collection, lining up a programme of public and stakeholder engagement, and developing project management to bring all these streams of work together.
What you can do to support the Sussex kelp forests
Help Our Kelp has been formed in partnership with the following organisations: